Well it is not 3D printing per se. Don’t get me wrong 3D printing is an awesome technology and it is a great advancement in technology. I see exciting new 3D printed products every day. But what really gets me excited is the concept of 3D printing or actually digital manufacturing. 3D printing builds products from the ground up by adding and arranging material. This concept changes the paradigm on how things get manufactured and it enables to produce local and in micro volumes.
Most manufacturing is analog — even when driven or controlled by computers the process is still analog. It transforms materials into parts or parts of parts. 3D printing instead builds the product from a base material. To me there is a fundamental difference between the two methods of manufacturing. I see this approach to manufacturing popping up everywhere.
The approach of building things from the ground up appeals to me more than the traditional manufacturing methods. Intuitively it feels more logical.
You can compare 3D printing today with vacuüm tubes from the past. It took 60 years to get the point where we are today where your average phone has more computing power than supercomputers of only 2 decades ago. We went from vacuüm tube to transistors to miniaturization of transistors on chips. But during that revolution it changed fundamentally how we looked at information processing and mathematical problems. The same will happen with 3D printing. The 3D printers of today will be forgotten in a few decades but the impact on manufacturing and how we design, create and make products will fundamentally change.
Analog methods are variations and improvements to century old knowledge on how to build stuff. We made it 1000x more efficient, reliable and cheaper in centuries of improving and polishing these old manufacturing processes.
3D printing is just one of the “new” manufacturing approach, but I am bullish that we will see much more of these technologies become mainstream and maybe replace all current manufacturing methods all together.