3D Printing Could Kill You (Or Your Business), Here’s Why…

3D Printing is going to have a dramatic affect on manufacturing, but we can learn from other industries how to succeed when change comes.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications for CIMx Software

Choices and options.

3D printing will change manufacturing. How will you handle the change? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com.

I came across an article on a Yahoo News about a University of Texas law student who is posting online a blueprint for a 3D printed handgun called “The Liberator.”  Download the blueprint/design, load it into your 3D printer- yes, you can purchase a home 3D printer, such as the Replicator 2 or the Cube– and you’re moments from producing your own plastic handgun; weaponry in no time at all!

Reading the article was scary and exciting, because I love technology!  The future is exciting, and I believe technology represents the best of humanity- using our ingenuity to solve problems together.  Others argue it is dangerous technology- not only physically harmful, this is….

… scary.  Worried about gun control laws?  Why worry, when you can print your own gun.  A world where a gun for a terrorist is only a website and 3D printer away is scary. But, it’s also…

.. exciting. Someday you will log onto a website, select a design, and print it on your desktop.  It sounds like pure science fiction, a scene from Star Trek, pulled straight out of Neal Stephenson’s book Diamond Age. Maybe, but soon the Defense Distributed website will offer the handgun design. Once the first design comes out, designs for more products will follow.  Household custom manufacturing is science fiction no longer, and that is…

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

… scary, especially for manufacturers.  The University of Texas law student behind the handgun design describes himself as a “free-market anarchist,” and 3D Printing is a “free-market anarchist’s” dream. The entire manufacturing dynamic is changing. Consumers no longer rely on manufacturers, they have their own manufacturing control. Which means manufacturers need to offer more than a product, but also a service or a value-add to convince consumers to purchase, and I don’t think manufacturing is ready to make that transition.  It’s a radical change, and change can be…

… exciting, because for a long time, our industry (manufacturing) has been reluctant to embrace change.  Other industries have adjusted to the modern market.  Newspapers and magazines have moved to meet the consumer online and in social media.  Restaurants are providing an “experience,” and grocery stores are utilizing technology to connect to shoppers.  But manufacturers are reluctant to tackle custom orders, still embrace paper-bound build books, and rely on outdated Legacy systems.  We might know how to improve efficiency, but fear and risk hold us back. Change is coming, and that’s…

… scary, because for many in our industry, there seems to be little plan to adjust to a world where the consumer has access to a relatively inexpensive  manufacturing technology.  What will 3D printing mean for you?  What will desktop manufacturing mean to your shop floor?  Can we embrace the changes other industries have made; this includes a focus on customer service? Can we continue to ignore the need for change?

Take action now that will pay dividends in the future! Photo credit www.colourbox.com

Take action now that will pay dividends in the future! Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

This article on an idealistic law student brings up a number of questions.  There will be questions about gun control, regulation, empowering criminals versus free market enterprise, but we also need to think about what 3D printing and open information mean for manufacturing.  Sure, 3D printing can be an exceptional new tool for manufacturing, but we need to step back and look at how else it will affect the industry. Other changes are coming- including cloud computing, mobile manufacturing, paperless manufacturing, robotics, MES, agile processes, and more. Change is already here, and more is coming.

I’m not arguing that 3D printing is going to completely replace manufacturing.  The technology isn’t there yet.  It’s slow.  Products made with 3D printing aren’t high quality and are prone to defects, and 3D printers aren’t capable of discrete manufacturing, but it’s only a matter of time.  We continually refine and perfect technology.  At one time, televisions were large and heavy, with only black and white pictures.  Now, we can wear a television like a watch- so imagine what 3D printing will be like in 20 years. Or 10 years. Or even next year.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your business from the 3D printing revolution?  What manufacturing solutions are available? How can you increase quality, increase production, and offer customers a better manufacturing experience? How agile is your operation? Now is the time to take action. When change comes for your business, make sure it’s exciting, not scary.

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