3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The file is created with a 3D modeling program or scanner. As it is sent to the printer, the software slices the design into thousands of horizontal cross-sectional layers. These layers of material are then printed successively until your physical object is created. Magic!
The introduction of consumer 3D printers instantly gave 3D designers the power of manufacturing. Anyone, anywhere can design and then create anything! Consider this – engineers, architects, animators and artists once used Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs just for the graphical realization of their ideas on a screen. Computer generated models have been indispensable for creative endeavors such as the architectural, video game and film industries for decades. Now with 3D printing we can print these creations to life! The artisan spirit died with the Industrial Revolution, but now the ability to creatively manufacture our own things means that people can once again create businesses for themselves.
If you are neophyte to 3D printing, most likely you are new to 3D modeling as well. Luckily, the rise of 3D printing has attributed to an increase in CAD innovation. So, programs are being developed with 3D printing in mind such as Sketchup and TinkerCAD are easier than ever to use. Not to mention the old heavyweights – AutoCAD, Rhino and Blender – are all as pristine design tools as they have ever been.
Imagine you wanted to send a friend a hand painted porcelain Oriental vase. Instead of facing the rigors of expensive packaging with extra care for shipping, attaching postage, waiting in line at the post office and waiting days for the vase to arrive, you will be able to seamlessly send the vase to your friend via 3D printer and the cloud. This is the ideal future of distributed manufacturing at work. Every house or business has the potential to become a 3D printing hub for manufacturing. For skeptics this may sound like a scene from The Jetsons, but in due time with a few more steps of technological progress – the future is here and now.
The cloud partnered with 3D printing will shred distribution costs for business. Sending a file rather than a physical thing will also eliminate packaging for items. Real time data of 3D printers can be monitored remotely with the Internet, which means the possibility of an even more integrated network of manufacturing systems. For now businesses such as The UPS Store and Amazon are taking advantage of the unique logistical advantages 3D printing presents to their business models. Be sure to take advantage of the large, creative open-source movement that has emerged to share code, printers and product designs that anyone can use and modify.
Traditionally, large manufacturing processes use expensive equipment with a high throughput that must be maintained to achieve economy of scale and minimize the raw materials costs (also known as Mass Production). Mass production is inflexible because it is oftentimes difficult to alter a design or process after a line has been implemented. Also, providing variety for consumers with ever growing tastes is challenging.
In the manufacturing world there are two basic forms of mass manufacturing. Milling machines begin with a blank and subtract material until achieving the desired shape. Injection molding machines start with a mold and then material is heated and injected to fill out the space within the mold. These push processes specialize in producing as many quantities as possible for a single design, which leads to material waste and inventory abundance. There are extra costs involved every time a product change or modification is implemented and bottlenecks in the system can occur if one process goes down. On a macro scale, these old manufacturing methods are highly ineffective and inefficient.
With 3D printing, there is a cost of zero for changing your design since modifications are made using CAD. By printing things after the customer has purchased it, businesses are able to terminate inventory and focus on tailoring each sale to the customer. This scenario is an example of a pull system. 3D printers have the power to control economies of scale. Although we still have many years until this plays out, it is the path 3D printing innovation is headed toward. Instead of worrying about how to cheaply manufacture designs, product makers can now place their focus on what is important: Product Design.
The 2000s were a time marked by significant environmental consequence. As we as a society strive to reevaluate our environmental footprint in consideration for the growing population and our childrens’ children, sustainable technologies have to be considered. Bearing in mind the vast amount of things that are made everyday in factories, 3D printing has the potential to pioneer sustainable innovation in a grand way! Many businesses today are hesitant to make sustainable changes due to a lack of clear competitive benefit despite corporate social responsibility.
The wonderful merit of 3D printers is its environmental friendliness and lack of carbon footprint. Materials science has attributed to zero waste materials for use with 3D printers. Additionally, many of these materials are recyclable and oftentimes can be reused in the 3D printer. Philosophically, 3D printing hubs will cut down on transportation time and subsequently fuel consumption. The relatively small amount of real estate 3D printers take up will increase productivity between processes in manufacturing plants and increase the likelihood of having one in our homes.
Likewise, in a hypothetical future, by purchasing product designs from an “eMarketplace” of 3D products and printing it ourselves, we have eliminated all of the waste from traditional manufacturing. This includes 100% of packaging materials, energy and transportation costs. In this respect users of 3D printing will enjoy a custom-tailored shopping experience while saving the world.
Customization and automation – two words that are seemingly difficult to fuse. By combining both the Internet and 3D printing start-ups can now provide Mass Customization as a service without spending millions in the process. There are a handful of early adopters who are already integrating 3D printing into mass customization for example, Feetz, which specializes in custom 3D printed shoes. Those with dreams of creating mass customization on demand will have to build their own architecture since the technology and associated software is still relatively primitive.
Quite frankly, the spawn of the Internet era was a conduit for global distribution and social connectivity. Now, 3D printing is introducing a new era of creation for artists, designers and makers. The era of mass distribution is now coming full-circle with mass creation… which means anyone, anywhere can design and then create anything for anybody!
The 3D printing sector is experiencing rapid growth as many pundits label 3D printing the next industrial revolution. Right now, Stratasys and 3D Systems control the majority of the industrial market, and venture capital-backed Shapeways is the leader in on-demand printing, but the field is getting increasingly crowded as the industry shifts to producing real parts and products rather than just prototypes. There are innumerable ways to use 3D printing technology for business opportunities – most of them probably haven’t even been thought of yet. What we are exploring here is the possibility of using a budding technology to create income ideas. And what crazy possibilities there are!
Notice what happened to the Book, Music, Movie and Video Game industries this last decade? The democratization of media through self-publishing tools has spawned an age where everyone can easily produce and publish as an artist, producer, director or writer. Well, with the Internet & 3D printing the same is soon to change for objects. Before long people will be able to design, print and sell products from the comfort of their own homes.
“3D printing turns digital files into physical objects by building them up layer-by-layer. It gives everyday consumers the power of manufacturing.” –Kyle Chayka
Courtesy of Bain & Company.