We are on the verge of a new manufacturing revolution that is based on 3D printing. Almost every industry dealing with objects or products is being affected by this revolution, including the medical industry, which is currently exploring the “bio-printing” of body parts. As with all technology, 3D printing techniques are improving, evolving and becoming affordable. At the moment there are a number of companies using several technologies and techniques for creating 3D parts. Stratasys (SSYS), the largest maker of 3D printers recently reported record quarterly growth. Full disclosure, I own SSYS stock. The other publicly traded 3D printer company is 3D Systems (DDD). Other smaller independently owned manufacturers of 3D printers include MakerBot which offers printer kits that cost as little as $1,749.
The proliferation of 3D printing will revolutionize how products are designed and manufactured. This technology allows for products to be produced without the large capital investment and risk associated with current production methods, i.e. injection molding machines and manual assembly. This empowerment will enable designers to be more creative and ambitious; not to mention completely change current manufacturing, distribution and retail business models. A brand or retailer would be able to respond to market demand in a matter of day instead of months.
At the moment 3D printing technology is used heavily as a way to create accurate and fast prototypes. However, it is also starting to be used as the primary production method for finished goods. Freshfiber, a European brand, is using it to create some awesome iPhone cases while others are printing lamps and vases. This method of production would allow brands of all sizes to be more conscious of sustainability while producing products that are designed to better meet region specific needs. For example, NPR’s Marketplace program recently aired a story of African craftsmen carving replacement appliance and automotive parts from wood. The use of a 3D printer would have allowed these people to download and print the parts they need in addition to designing and producing other products not available to them. I’m sure similar issues exist in many of Greece’s villages and islands. Being able to eliminate shipping and packaging costs would significantly reduce prices, save resources and eliminate associated pollution.
What’s really cool about 3D printing is that parts can be designed with surfaces that would otherwise be impossible to create using traditional manufacturing techniques. To help you understand what I’m talking about, think of a typical injection mold as a cake mold. Now, imagine being able to create a cake in ANY shape you want WITH moving parts AND electronic circuitry built in, without having to worry about whether or not the cake can be taken out of the mold. That’s the power 3D printing!
As you can tell, I’m a strong believer in this technology. So much so that I even own shares of Stratasys. It’s exciting and inspiring just thinking of all the cool things that can be made using such printers. If you are interested in creating your own products you’re going to need a 3D software program. There are many programs available and which one you choose to use depends on your needs and budget. Even though I use Rhinoceros 3D, the most popular is SolidWorks.