Ford vs. 3D Printing

Certainly as an Autodesk employee, it is nearly impossible to ignore and not take an extreme curiosity, or better yet, an active role, in the next industrial revolution happening currently with the growth of 3D printing. The existence of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, technology has been making history in key industries over the last 30 years. However, most groundbreaking research and discoveries about its jaw-dropping capabilities and potential have been taking place behind closed doors.

So, why pay attention now? As of recent years, 3D printing has fast and quickly been moving into the spotlight, evolving and improving its ability to accurately print a wide range of objects, from large-scale automobiles to nano-scale medical devices. An increasing amount of companies have started to scale the potential of additive manufacturing and transition their business models to facilitate its transparency, Autodesk included, of course.

From the closed research labs of engineers and scientists, into the offices, studios and classrooms of enthusiastic developers, designers and students (collectively calling themselves “makers”), 3D printing is now visibly affecting societal, industrial and environmental change.

Handicraft -> Mass Production -> Mass Customization

Before the first Industrial Revolution began in Britain during the late 1700s, the manufacturing of products took place in the home. Hand tools, basic machines, and hard-working craftsmanship were used to create everything, from transportation devices and furniture, to games and food. The sun dictated working hours and the number of hands determined productivity.

Hargreaves with his spinning jenny, Fulton with his steamboat, Watt with his powered machinery, and numerous other inventors that cradled Industrialization to maturity, these forward thinkers created the age in which we have lived for over 250 years. Special-purpose machinery and continually growing factories have been the key components of industrialization, with mass production acting as the guiding principle and flagship goal.

The Industrial Revolution

And no one understood or developed the potential of mass production quite like Mr. Henry Ford. Everyone is familiar with the famous Ford quotation, when describing his mass produced Model T, “[y]ou can have any color you want, as long as it’s black!” (Barnatt, 453) However, what is not well known is, why black? The black was not an educated design choice, but rather a strategic business decision, as black was the only color that could dry fast enough to keep up with Ford’s assembly line system! (Forbes, Ford)

By 1915, Ford had reduced the time it took to build an automobile by 90% and, consequently, succeeded to manufacture the first automobile that many middle class Americans could afford. By 1916, 55% of the automobiles on the road in the United States were Model Ts.

Mass Production: Ford Model T Assembly Line

Following the success of Ford’s Model T, it makes sense that the deemed ideal industrial manufacturing equation was calculated based on his experiences: The more things you make, the lower the cost of each of those things. (Forbes, Ford)

However, what if product personalization and manufacturing in the home were possible, and still cost effective with the technological progress achieved over the past 250 years? What happens when you combine the principles of the pre-industrial era with those of mass production?

You arrive to an age of Mass Customization.

What would Ford say now if he learned he really could have any color car he wanted, with any customizations he requested or any finish he described for the same price as his Model T? The age of 3D printing creates a massive shift from mass production to mass customization and all the principles that come with it. The consumer is instantly given complete control of the designs and models he purchases. (Barnatt, 453) Although Ford cannot answer the question above, his company, still going strong, can.

Ford Motors Company & 3D Printing

General Ford Motors has indeed incorporated the 3D printing manufacturing model, having now produced their 500,000th 3D printed part. (Forbes, New Economics) The numerous functions of 3D printing together with its positive effects on the manufacturing industry have caused a myriad of companies similar to General Ford Motors to embrace 3D printing into their own manufacturing equations.

And we couldn’t be happier about it. At Autodesk Spark, we are working together on one creative platform to bring the age of customization into the reach of everyone. Here, hardware engineers, software developers, designers and materials scientists have a collaborative space to accelerate and improve the future of 3D printing, and all the customization and personal design opportunities that come with it.

About the Author

Talya is the content marketing writer for the Spark Team at Autodesk TLV . She is currently getting her Masters in Industrial Design from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she loves spending time with her family and soaking up the Tel Aviv sun.