Future of 3D printing — part 2

In my previous post about Future of 3D printing I wrote about the bigger effects of 3D printing on manufacturing. In this post I would like to go into the revolution of 3D printing itself as a technology.

3D printing is a reality since 1986. Most people who hear about 3D printing today are amazed that the technology is this old. Of course the technology has improved over the years and 3D printers of today are very much different than those of the past.

In the last two decades the 3D printing technology have diversified in different directions. Each technology has its specific use cases. Still the total market is tiny if you look at the potential. I define the total market as the combined manufacturing sectors.

Although nobody can look in the future my take is that 3D printing revolution is already starting. The analogy with the computing world is striking. In the seventies there were essentially two computing platforms; mainframes and hobby computers. It took until the beginning of the 80s when the personal computer came to the world which made the computer a household item.

3D printing is currently in the seventies where there again two platforms; high-end industrial 3D printers and relatively cheap hobby printers. If I extend the analogy it will take another decade before everybody has a 3D printer in its home.

3D printers are also disruptive in another sense and that is digitization of manufacturing. Of course a lot of manufacturing is has been digitized already — at least in the sense of CAM. But 3D printing goes direct from design to manufacturing. It is as simple as clicking 3D print in your favorite 3D software package. No special manufacturing or equipment expertise is necessary. I know I am over simplifying but it is not far from reality today.
The effect of this that the role of factories and the way manufacturing is going to change. This change has a very important effect because it actually allows much more freedom in where and how products are produced. 3D printers are more or less standardized equipment and when you have created your 3D representation of your product you can print it in your office or mass-produce it in your factory. It is essentially the same thing. You can even change manufacturing locations based on demand. It will create a huge archive of 3D models which can be produced today, but also tomorrow, or in a decade from now. Just imagine the potential when you can just as easily produce a Ferrari of today as a T-Ford from 1908 because the digitized design is available.

So the question is what will you print when you have a 3D printer at home?