For the last few years, I’ve been hearing rumors about the increasing accessibility of 3D printing, but it wasn’t until I watched the following video on it that it really caught my attention:
It’s a long video, so if you’re short on time, let me sum it up. Lisa Harouni, co-founder of Digital Forming (who focuses on 3D printing – no surprise there), speaks at length about the age of 3D printing – or what she says is more accurately called, “Additive Manufacturing.” This is a process that has been in development for the last 30 years but is just now becoming accessible to the general population. In other words – yes, it’s possible that you could soon have a 3D printer sitting on your desktop, should you find a use for it.
For those just entering into this idea, here’s basically how it works (minus the super technicality of the
There have been several interesting, incredibly thorough articles written up on this subject (just Google “additive manufacturing” or “3D printing,” especially if you have specific inquiries), but I wanted to walk us through what makes this product have I3 value.
Additive manufacturing is innovative not merely because of its unique, almost-sci-fi-esque capabilities – or because of its rarity – but because of how it can revolutionize manufacturing on a large as well as at a small level.
On a large level, “the technology is ideally suited to low-volume production,” according to The Economist. Mass customization of finished parts is more doable – such as dental crowns made while-you-wait at the dentist. Such technology is already here, and could save people time and money when utilized in a smart way.
On a smaller level, 3D printing may help certain entrepreneurs dream and test their products at low cost. The Economist is quick to point out that, “One-off prototypes can be hideously expensive to produce, but a 3D printer can bring down the cost by a huge margin.”
I’m finding it a bit difficult to put into words what exactly makes 3D printing inspirational, apart from my constant, “Wows!” uttered under my breath while viewing the video. I completely agree with what Erik Sherman wrote about it for in Inc.:
“Instead of viewing 3D printers as cool curiosities, think about what they represent. Such a device is a way to move transparently from a design to a product without creating tooling or hiring manufacturing personnel. It’s as though someone had found a way to implement a Star Trek-like transporter. But instead of beaming objects from a ship in space to the surface of a planet, it sends products from digital files to tangible forms.”
For more, “Wow!” moments yourself, just image search products that have been printed. My favorite are the cars. Here, I’ll save you the trouble:
Indispensable? Check! – or at least, why I think so
So, sure – the technology has been around for 30 years or so (its most recent form debuted around the early 2000s), but what makes this product even remotely indispensable is the drop in price. 3D printers have gone from nearly hundreds of thousands of dollars to prices more in the $1,000 range (and even, as Lisa Harouni tells us, as low as $300!).
And let’s just say that a 3D printer is not on your current short-list of office expenses; that doesn’t mean the technology is out of your everyday reach. There are a few companies that are making 3D printing incredibly accessible. Take, for example, Shapeways – a company that assists entrepreneurs in using the technology to create their product, have it printed, and sell it directly on their website.
Carine Carmy, marketing communications manager at Shapeways, tells Inc. Magazine, “What’s so great about what we’re doing is you don’t need to have inventory management at all. Any time a customer places an order, we’ll print that item on demand and ship it directly to your customer and take care of everything from fulfillment through customer service.”
Lisa Harouni says that this technology will make it possible for you to manufacture previously-discontinued parts that may be needed in your home. So let’s say you need a spare part for the old vacuum cleaner, or your refrigerator – something like that. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to go online, download the CAD data for that part, and have it printed out.
That sounds pretty indispensable to me!