Is 3D Printing Dead?
3d printing was all the rage back then some entrepreneurs and analysts in the space predicted a 3d printer with soon a staple in every household as ubiquitous as microwaves according to the zealots these futuristic devices would democratized manufacturing.
Craig an Industrial Revolution or as the October 2012 cover of Wired put it this machine will change the world yeah not so much that guy on the cover of Wired he’d only off half his workforce rival companies face similar downsizing and anecdotally.
I don’t know anyone who owns a 3d printer and I know some bonafide nerds yet it turns out that the 3d printing revolution might still have a chance we were just looking in the wrong place all that hype I just talked about plus the TED talks and The Colbert Report appearances these centered on 3d printers as consumer products desktop appliances for the home.
Peter Bassel ear a 3d printer researcher at Gartner told me this focus on the consumer market did not serve the general populations understanding of what was actually going on especially since its advocates were prone to hyperbole it’s the world of 3d printing and it’s going to change everything of course it doesn’t help that tech media loves bluster and oversimplification but away from the media fueled excitement serious people were doing serious research universities big businesses even government’s and the most exciting and useful developments weren’t for hobbyist looking to print out busts of their cats but industrial manufacturers trying to save money and increase efficiency
Terri Wohlers whose annual report on 3d printing is a big deal in the industry told me that in that realm the professional manufacturing realm the 3d printing revolution is happening right now companies like General Electric youlet Packard Boeing even Nike have integrated 3d printing into their workflow not as some sort of gimmick but because it’s good for the bottom line that’s sort of the beauty of talented business people they ignore all the noise the ups and downs of the hype cycle and they focus on the Under technology and 3d printing technology has its advantages a big one is that it enables easy prototyping Vasiliy are told me this is the primary use of industrial 3d printers basically research and development departments can get a tangible sample product without having to design and build expensive molds and make a big upfront investment plus they can do the prototyping in-house no need for an outside firm and if they need to make adjustments and incorporate feedback they can do it right away companies can even give these prototypes to their sales teams to see if there are any potential customers all this allows new ideas to fail fast which is way better than failing slow another advantage 3d printers are particularly good at printing odd geometric shapes that are impossible to manufacture as one solid piece through traditional process for instance a few years ago General Electric started using 3d printed fuel nozzles in their jet engines traditionally these fuel nozzles were made up of 20 different component parts and assembling them was an intricate challenge the 3d printed version however is just one piece eliminating the possibility of human error not only that but they’re 25% lighter which means there’s fuel savings keep in mind this is big business for GE they’ve reported some 80 billion dollars in gen engine six.
View this Creality 3D Printer
Another great feature of 3d printing they’re a lifeline for businesses in isolation if you need a spare part but you’re on an oil rig in the middle the ocean you can’t just use Amazon Prime well maybe when the drone fleet arrives but not right now actually speaking of science fictiony stuff there’s a company aptly named made in space that well specializes in 3d printers that work in zero-gravity that’s a tremendous advance because astronauts have to travel with so many tools and spare parts in case of emergency the zero gravity 3d printer is a way to lighten the payload again saving fuel and think of the implications for settling Mars you can’t bring everything to a far-off planet but you can bring the machine that can make everything I can go on and on about industrial 3d printing applications the customized prosthetics the quickly built homes the precise dental implants but now I’m realizing the irony of starting this piece by shit-talking the hype cycle and Here I am pretty hyped and should be fair there are still some problems I spoke to two researchers hi Mae Bodine raka and parth Vaishnav who interviewed dozens of manufacturers engineers and business leaders and publish a paper that identified some significant issues with 3d printing for instance regulators the world over require parts to be tested for safety especially in the aerospace and automobile industries but there’s no established playbook on how to test 3d printed items so the industry has to create its own systems and importantly prove to regulators that they’re effective that’s time consuming and expensive.
The researchers also told me not to underestimate the training and expertise required to design and produce products for 3d printing despite what we were told on The Colbert Report it’s not as simple as pressing a button and the design requires special software and perhaps that’s the lingering negative impact of all that hype we were told this tech was easy to use so when people started experimenting with it and discovered was actually a bit of a pain in the ass they got frustrated and wrote it off in other words many of us including professional manufacturers were introduced the technology without the caveat that it still had a long way to go it’s like reading a draft of a book and assuming the final product won’t be any better but the technology has been improving corporate investments in the space are up so our sales and perhaps more importantly a new generation is being trained on 3d printing every expert I spoke to pointed out that it’s not uncommon for high schools universities and community colleges to teach 3d printing when those students become professional engineers they can rely on that experience to not only have a better understanding of how to troubleshoot but they’ll have more realistic expectations relatedly one of my guiding philosophies in life is to always under promise in my humble opinion it’s much better to exceed modest expectations than to fail to meet unrealistic ones so maybe 3d printing isn’t going to change the world wherever the hell that means but it seems on pace to improve it somewhat Wohlers estimated it can account for 5% of global manufacturing that might sound like a small number but it accounts for hundreds of billions of dollars that’s see so the story of the 3d printer revolution is a reminder just because something doesn’t live up to the expectations right away doesn’t mean it’s a failure the fate of a technology is often unpredictable