The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
3D Printing: The Reality

There’s a lot of talk going around these days about how drastically 3D printers might change our day-to-day lives. The ability to print any object from layers of plastic has many picturing themselves printing any item on demand whenever they happen to need it. But will the machines really have such profound effect on our lives? Smartplanet chimes in:

The answer: yes and no. The term “3D printing” comprises two very different worlds: hobbyist 3D printing, where people with relatively inexpensive machines print plastic objects in the comfort of their homes; and industrial 3D printing, which is usually referred to by another name: additive manufacturing. They are vastly different and will likely have divergent impacts on the economy. Both, however, are poised to alter the way businesses think about production.

The novelty of having 3D printers at home could eventually wear out when consumers realize that while they may have the ability to print replacement parts for various machines or objects, they don’t have the desire or know-how to actually replace them. On the other hand, the combination of consumer fatigue with hard to manage repairs and the availability of cheap new parts produced ‘while you wait’ will create opportunities for small businesses who do want to repair items, and will be able to do so without ordering and shipping the pieces.

Jobs of the future: fixing appliances quickly and fast. It’s a job that can’t be outsourced and that allows kids who don’t love taking on huge debts and spending 16 years in school listening to teachers drone about abstractions to make a good living. Via Meadia cheers.

But the biggest impact from 3D printing will come from the existing field of “additive manufacturing” by radically improving the way products are designed:

Three-dimensional printing also stands to make industrial design more efficient; with new capabilities comes new processes. Take a complicated engine piece, for example: what once required several pieces manufactured separately then fit together can now be designed and printed as one piece. For the airline industry, for example, that means lighter parts that translate to reduced fuel costs. “Even though we live in a 3D world, most of our products are designed in 2D,” Wicker says. “Just imagine allowing the full creativity of my designer to take advantage of all three dimensions.”

Better, cheaper, more energy efficient. That is what progress looks like, and we’d like to see more of it.

For more VM coverage of 3D printing go here and here. We live in interesting times.

Published on November 17, 2012 12:00 pm