Will 3D Printing Spark A Green Manufacturing Revolution?


Star Wars Blog

It will be a while before there is a 3D printer in every home (although you can build your own Makerbot now and print out your own low-res Darth Vader) but the implications of the technology is being discussed everywhere right now. BLDGBLOG writes that one company, Made in Space, "wants to launch 3-D printers into orbit and use them to make parts for spacecraft and space stations, which would be assembled in zero gravity."

But there are bigger, and greener, implications on earth.
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At the Big Think, Andrew Dermont looks at the implications for manufacturing and even how we shop.


[Abe Reichental, CEO of 3D Systems] predicts the cost of outsourced labor in emerging markets like China and India will continue to rise along with the growth of their middle classes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, both employment and compensation costs in China increased rapidly from 2002 to 2006. Employment in China increased by more than ten percent in just four years, while compensation costs increased more than 40 percent. "We believe this is an opportunity for recreating a reverse flow, bringing manufacturing activities and jobs back to the United States," says Reichental.

It may seem a far-fetched to predict that thousands of entrepreneurs across America will install professional-grade rapid prototyping machines in their garages and begin manufacturing custom-made products. But if the costs of rapid prototyping technology continue to decline, it's hard to see why future generations will have to go to the store to buy anything made of solid plastic or metal. Why buy cutlery and plastic cups if you could just download the design and make it yourself? Plastic water bottles, shower curtains, simple toys, Tupperware, and all types of kitsch. The list goes on.


Three years ago I wrote something similar for our Absolut digital design project:

It is like the music for our iPod; dematerialized bits and bytes put together again where we need it, without the waste of a physical intermediary. In a world where we watch our carbon as closely as our waistline we don't want to be driving to stores; in a world where almost everything can be digitized, why move material when we are interested in ideas, creativity and talent?

With digital designs we decide what we want from the best in the world, not what Mr. Store Manager picks out. The Long Tail is at our fingertips as we cruise from Korea to Kansas for the design that suits our taste.


It is already the stuff of copyright and patent discussion. BoingBoing points us to Public Knowledge's Michael Weinberg's essay:

It Will Be Awesome if They Don't Screw it Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology, examines how intellectual property (IP) law impacts the rapidly maturing technology of 3D printing, and how incumbents who feel threatened by its growth might try to use IP law to stop it.

It will be the next disruptive technology, radically changing design and manufacturing. Flatpack furniture will be cut to order at the neighbourhood CNC centre; flatware for your table will be 3D printed. No more inventory, no more shipping, no more big box retailer. That's disruptive.

More on 3D printing and downloadable design:

Ponoko + ShopBot = 100K Garages: This Changes Everything In Downloadable Design
In An Absolut World Everything is Downloadable
3D Printing Your Party Shoes: Hit or Miss?
Kinko's for Kidneys: 3D Printing Your Own Body Parts
US Army Finds 3D Printing + Shipping Container = Instant Parts
Heavy Metal Meets Downloadable Designs: 3D Printing from CAD to Metal
3D Printers Now as Cheap As Laser Printers Were in 1985
Why We Love The Idea of Printing Buildings

Tags: Electronics