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3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution

There are several new key developments in the 3D printing industry which promise to make 2017 the beginning of the next industrial revolution. Considering the dwindling resources of planet earth, this revolution’s time has come. In addition to lowering costs and increasing customization, perhaps the most important aspect of this industrial revolution is the potential for eliminating waste.

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Currently, it is estimated that 30% of all manufactured goods end up in massive landfills before they even reach the consumer. While mass production has lowered costs and increased the availability of many items for a greater number of people, it has also contributed to wasting precious natural resources. As there is often no direct link between supply and demand beyond the power of advertising, mass production facilities in low-wage countries are engaged in an ultimately destructive cycle of massive consumption of raw materials and energy. 3D printing offers the possibility of creating a more sustainable global economy by linking production and consumption. Items can be purchased digitally and customized before production takes place.

 

New Developments

Hewlett-Packard expects to launch their ultra-fast Multi Jet Fusion machine at the end of the year. One more big player entering the game is sure to even further motivate research and development teams of other industry giants, such as 3D Systems and Stratasys to remain competitive. However, it’s not just new players, but new processes that are providing fuel for the 3D printing revolution. In an interview, Neil Hopkinson, Professor of Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Sheffield, explains the new process called High Speed Sintering (HSS). This process enables layers of an object to be sintered in seconds, which increases the current speed of 3D printing by 10 to 100 percent.

Carbon3D, a relatively new startup company, attracted more than $50 million in investment capital based on two impressive short videos demonstrating their Continuous Liquid Interface Production Technology (CLIP). They also attracted Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford to sit on their board. CLIP utilizes light, oxygen and a photosensitive resin to print objects 25 to 100 times faster than current 3D printers. Rob Schoeben, the company’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, expects the new machines to be launched by the middle of this year. The effect on the manufacturing industry promises to be monumental.

 

The New Manufacturing Industry

The market for 3D printing technology is expected to grow to $5.2 billion dollars by the year 2020. Today, mass production utilizes a subtractive process in which raw materials are placed in a mold and the excess is cut away. The 3D printing process is additive, which means that only the exact amount of raw material needed to make the part is used, which eliminates both waste and the necessity for re-processing raw materials. For the manufacturing industry, this means that less capital for raw materials is needed, which means that more can be spent on research and development and customer service.

With traditional assembly lines, tools and materials have to be changed for each individual job, customer, and product. With 3D printing, production teams have greater flexibility because assembly is a single seamless operation. Both manufacturers and consumers benefit from these cost savings in the form of higher profits and lower prices. Those prices promise to become even lower as new players continue to enter the field and established companies scramble to prevent their existing customers from being lost to the competition as well as attract new ones.

Most people don’t yet fully realize the magnitude of the profound impact 3D printing has already had on our everyday lives. The media sensationalizes it’s use in medical breakthroughs like the creation of artificial limbs and even human organs. However, the reality is that 3D printing technology is used for everything, from toys to custom made zero differential valves for oil industry. There is no limit to the number of imaginative uses for 3D printing.
Gradually replacing current mass production methods with the customized production-on- demand model made possible by 3D printing eliminates waste of earth’s precious natural resources. The lives of our children and grandchildren may depend on it.

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