Business blog

Technological change: 3-D printing promises a new industrial revolution

I’m going to show you a technology that may simply blow you away.  This isn’t a make-believe technology; it’s real and it’s here now.  The possibilities are endless; the implications for the future of manufacturing, business investment and business models could be hugely significant.

I can sense you might be a little sceptical about 3-D printing.  To help provide some (detailed) background, I recommend listening to these two editions of Peter Day’s excellent Global Business podcasts in which he investigates the development and current applications of 3-D printing.

New Dimensions for Manufacturing - Episode 1
Could 3D printing may be poised to revolutionise the manufacturing industry? Peter Day asks if 100 years of mass production is running out of steam.

New Dimensions for Manufacturing - Episode 2
Peter Day talks to the experts about the potential for 3D printing to revolutionise manufacturing as well as the way that business thinks and works. And he finds out what could be made using 3D printers.

Most of us are not familiar with the concept of 3-D printing, so her’s the basic idea. There are now machines that can convert a CAD (computer-aided design) file into a 3-D reality. In the same way that an inkjet printer lays tiny droplets of ink onto a sheet of paper, these machines build up layer upon (very thin) layer of material (usually plastic) to create an object from the base up.

You may be starting to imagine the possibilities, and certainly listening to Peter Day’s podcasts, you get a sense of the amazing opportunities:

- If the software can draw the product, it can be made (however, 3-D designs currently work much better in plastics rather than in metals)

- Many applications where traditional manufacturing methods are complex and expensive - e.g. engineering parts; aerospace parts; artificial limbs!

- Personalisation of many products; instant local printing of replacement parts etc

Amongst the potential benefits are:

* A revolution in the way that a product can be designed - much faster development times
* A reduction in the time taken to produce something
* Reducing the amount of capital invested in machinery, stocks
* Garage inventors and garage manufacturers” on the way - innovators have fewer barriers to entry

Now, let’s see this 3-D technology in action.

This short video explains the basic process involved in 3-D printing:

and here is a slightly longer video showing the process in action:

More here from the Financial Times (July 2012)

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