3D printing is considered a “disruptive” technology in as much as it has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing and even effect societal change. According to Avi Reichental, president and chief executive officer of 3D Systems, Inc., surprisingly, some of that change may make our future more like our past.
At its heart, 3D printing makes things. It’s an additive manufacturing process that creates three dimensional objects by building them, layer by thin, successive layer out of a variety of materials—over one hundred now and still counting—but usually from plastics, nylon and even metal.
The making of things is part of why Reichental connects 3D printing with our pre-Industrial Revolution heritage, but it’s the ability of 3D printing for mass customization that strikes a chord with Reichental.
“While the Industrial Revolution enabled amazing advancements for mankind, it also atrophied our craftsmanship skills and eradicated hyper local manufacturing, leaving us with cheap, uniform and commoditized goods that churn off assembly lines half a world away.
“Think about the products we consume every day. Almost all of them were designed to be mass-produced so that producers could achieve economies of scale, making them more readily available to a wider number of people. We call that ‘design for manufacturing,’ but in reality, it is ‘design for manufacturing constraints’ because mass-produced goods inevitably compromise performance and personalization for production efficiency, cost and uniformity.
“3D printing is turning this traditional approach to manufacturing on its head. A 3D printer requires no tooling or set-up so there are no economies of scale to be achieved from mass production. Per-part costs are the same whether you are producing a batch of one or one million, and this gives companies the opportunity (and the incentive) to personalize each product to an individual consumer’s needs.
“We are at the dawn of the mass customization era where products you buy—from clothing to consumer electronics to medical devices—will be tailored to your individual specifications.”