The future, will be printed!

3D printing is about to disrupt the $10 trillion global manufacturing industry in the next decade. With the possibilities this technology opens, it is sure to transform how we create, what we create and where we create.

Manufacturing, as we know it, has certain limitations. It is usually outsourced to a specific region in the world due to the equipment costs associated with it and hence as a result product designers and manufacturers work separately. Moreover, the cost of manufacturing is related to the number of units that are to be manufactured and this drives the designers to design generic one-size-fits-all products.

3D printing has the potential to overcome all these limitations. The entire setup can be as small as a desktop printer, to as big as to be able to print the entire dashboard of a Toyota Camry, and hence it would be possible to have a 3D printer in every household, and that’s when we will reach the true democratization of manufacturing.

With 3D printers showing up in each household, it will no longer be required to mass manufacture generic goods in one part of the world, but instead consumers could manufacture their own products, customized to their liking right at their desk! Designers no longer have to stick to generic designs, but can explore customized designs for their customers. This will be a time when you’ll get exactly what you want, no one-size-fits-alls, as designers will no longer be limited by the manufacturing costs.

This is also a huge breakthrough in the field of prosthetics. It is an application which on a large scale requires customized designs for each individual, and with the advances in 3D printing it is now possible. Custom designs can be made in a matter of minutes and within no time you can have customized 3D printed prosthetic limb.

Made In Space is one of the first companies to have successfully demonstrated how 3D printing can be put to use in a disruptive way. They have been able to successfully place their Zero-G printers at the International Space Station, making it possible to do additive manufacturing in space and hence avoiding all the costs associated with transportation of those items from earth to space. They are already saving billions of dollars.

But more than anything, 3D printing will help enable a lot of small scale innovators that were previously limited with the costs associated with the conventional methods of manufacturing, which were often expensive. No longer will they have to worry about manufacturing, with a 3D printer in every household, they will be able to reach a wider audience easier than ever!

While 3D printers have been around since the 1980’s, this is an exciting time as it is only now that this field has reached a point where the technology has been developed enough so that even a 12 year old kid who can point and click on a computer can design for a 3D printer and print. It is now when the technology has been standardized, and as a result of that an average customer no longer has to focus on the technology itself but really on what they want to accomplish. This is a huge thing, because this is exactly how technologies scale.

Moreover, an average printer that costed $20,000 in 2010, is well below the $1,000 mark today. Continuing the tread, these printers are going to get so dispensable that you would no longer have to outsource manufacturing to China, you could do that right in your garage very cheaply. This reduction in cost will bring about the widespread adoption of this technology. In a few years you wouldn’t go shopping for certain things, you’ll just download them!

This is just one of the many possibilities 3D printing has the potential to bring about. Endless possibilities can be explored based on the kind of materials these printers use, from nylons, polymers, alloys, all the way to silicon and special materials that are capable of printing human skin! With the possibilities through Vitro meat, it is now only a matter of time when you’ll be tweeting your refrigerator your dinner menu and it’ll be ready and waiting for you when you return from work.

About 2.6 million years ago, early human beings started chipping rocks to create sharp objects, a process we now call subtractive manufacturing. Then, in the 19th century the Industry Revolution happened and improved manufacturing techniques were formed through mass manufacturing. Now, we are heading towards digital manufacturing which will bring democratization of manufacturing.

The future, will be printed.