3D printing now seems to be on the tipping point of becoming a mainstream technology that will transform traditional manufacturing. Already companies including Freedom of Creation and Make Eyewear are manufacturing final products with 3D printers. Mainstream manufacturers like Audi are also now using 3D printers to create final parts, while sculptors like Bathsheba Grossman are selling 3D printed works of art.
In my latest video (below) I try to pull together in six minutes the present and future of 3D printing. This includes a range of scenarios indicating how 3D printing may transform the way we buy shoes! While this may sound fantastical, only last week the Smithsonian was reporting that “injection molding may give way to 3D printing” in shoe production, with their blog recently showcasing many 3D printed shoe designs. The animated scenarios in the following video are therefore not as far-fetched as some may currently believe.
The advantages of using 3D printers for personal manufacturing — whether at home, or in a local store — could be significant. Whole products and parts thereof will be able to be stored digitally online. They will also be able to be digitally delivered, hence saving on transportation costs. Because 3D printing is an additive process, objects produced on 3D printers will additionally reduce materials wastage. And of course 3D printed products will be able to be customized for every individual.
While making the above video I visited the rapid prototyping lab in the University of Nottingham, UK to video their Z Corp and Dimension 3D printers in action. I also got to see various parts that had been printed out. At present any first-hand experience of such hardware and its output is both amazing and disappointing. Amazing because we are already printing out real, physical things for useful purposes. But disappointing because — with a few exceptions like plastic shoes — we are still a long way from being able to easily replicate most things with a 3D printer. The big question therefore has to be how rapidly 3D printing technology will develop. If it manages to improve and go mass market as quickly as PCs and the Internet, then personal manufacturing may be with uswithin a decade or so. What we therefore now need in spades are advocates, killer apps and early adopters willing to push forward the technology and its useful application.