The Economist has a great piece out today on the coming revolution in manufacturing with 3D printing, which could have as a profound impact on the world as the factories once did.
It works like this. First you call up a blueprint on your computer screen and tinker with its shape and colour where necessary. Then you press print. A machine nearby whirrs into life and builds up the object gradually, either by depositing material from a nozzle, or by selectively solidifying a thin layer of plastic or metal dust using tiny drops of glue or a tightly focused beam. Products are thus built up by progressively adding material, one layer at a time: hence the technology’s other name, additive manufacturing. Eventually the object in question—a spare part for your car, a lampshade, a violin—pops out. The beauty of the technology is that it does not need to happen in a factory. Small items can be made by a machine like a desktop printer, in the corner of an office, a shop or even a house; big items—bicycle frames, panels for cars, aircraft parts—need a larger machine, and a bit more space…
By reducing the barriers to entry for manufacturing, 3D printing should also promote innovation. If you can design a shape on a computer, you can turn it into an object. You can print a dozen, see if there is a market for them, and print 50 more if there is, modifying the design using feedback from early users. This will be a boon to inventors and start-ups, because trying out new products will become less risky and expensive. And just as open-source programmers collaborate by sharing software code, engineers are already starting to collaborate on open-source designs for objects and hardware.
This fits our theme of decentralization, from farming to energy, which we believe will be a mega trend over the next 50 years. There may be little need for factories as local towns or businesses have their own fabricators and could result in a massive repatriation of manufacturing back to developed countries from low wage manufacturing countries.
Our sense is the Chinese are already onto this and is a major reason why they’re moving quickly as possible away from the Chimerica model. The article is worth a read and we highly recommend taking an hour or two getting familiar with the theme. A lot of money is going to made with this theme, both at the micro and macro level, in our opinion. (click here if video is not observable)
Print me a Stradivarius – Economist
3D printing: The printed world – Economist
3-D Printing Spurs a Manufacturing Revolution – NY Times
Scott Summit — The Future of 3D Printing – Video