3D printing Technology: the next in disruptive tech

Disruptive technologies that almost everyone has now heard of include e-readers including Kindles and the digital ink technology used in them that is disrupting book publishing. Digital Music as well as mp3 players have disrupted music publishing and in both cases these technologies have been helped by perhaps the most disruptive technology of all time, up there with the spinning jenny, the internet.

A new disruptive technology is again going to rely partly on the internet to make it a success and it is again going to have an effect on a form of publishing but this is going to transform the publishing of products replacing traditional manufacturing with home self publishing

3D printing has already changed the rapid prototyping services industry drastically and it is for rapid prototyping services that 3D printing was first developed. Increasingly though companies are using 3D printers to manufacture products and parts.

At the moment for mass production 3D printing can’t compete, it can however offer better accuracy and lighter parts than mass production and it is easy to manufacture bespoke parts using the equipment: this makes it ideal for use in high tech industries such as aerospace where Boeing have used 3D printing to manufacture thousands of lightweight pasts for their new Boeing 787 Dreamliner: each part is a third lighter than if they had been made using traditional techniques.

Yet it isn’t the fact that 3D printers can manufacture with such accuracy, speed and precision that is going to make them a disruptive technology.

Lets first though explain a little more about operating a 3D printer and why they first became popular for rapid prototyping services; 3D printers can be huge or they can be desktop sized: this of course effects the size of an item they can print. Also more complex printers can print in materials such as metal, glass and ceramic: small desktop machines usually just print in plastic and often mono-tone, for now.

In many businesses which use 3D printers they have used them to replace traditional rapid prototyping services, either in house or out of house. Now the skills of building prototypes and models are superfluous as the designer themselves can take their CAD design and simply click print and send it to a 3D printer that does the rest. For rapid prototyping services in house at a design company this allows for the production of models very quickly and changes can be made based on testing and feedback to the existing CAD design and it can then be printed again.

If you though are a small business who want to go further and actually start production of a product or you want to manufacture products from home you can do this and you can even make multiple parts to be assembled, or with some 3D printers print items with multiple moving parts.

With this though you still have the issue of your costs being higher than competitors, though if you have a unique design it may not matter. Here then is where the internet comes in and where this becomes a true disruptive technology: you can make a design wherever you are and then sell the CAD file online to anyone with a 3D printer or who can get access to a 3D printer nearby: you therefore are cutting out the shipping costs, the labor costs in a factory and you are offering instant delivery, just like you can have with an mp3 or ebook online.


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