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3D printing: The next disruptive technology advances rapidly

3-D printing is one of the most exciting technological innovations in recent years, and it’s advancing at a rapid pace. In two recent articles about 3D printing, editor-in-chief of Wired Chris Anderson says 3-D printing has reached an inflection point, and Gizmag’s Doug Hendrie highlights 3-D printing’s huge potential for revolutionizing medical science:

1. Chris Anderson writing in Wired.com:

By all evidence, 3-D printing has reached its inflection point, when it moves from the sophisticated early adopters to people who just want to print something cool. Soon, probably in the next few years, the market will be ready for a mainstream 3-D printer sold by the millions at Walmart and Costco. At that point, the incredible economies of scale that an HP or Epson can bring to bear will kick in. A 3-D printer will cost $99, and everyone will be able to buy one.

Digital fabrication also takes the expensive parts of traditional manufacturing and makes them cheap. In mass production, the more complicated a product is and the more changes you make, the more it costs. But with digital fabrication, it’s the reverse: The traits that are expensive in traditional manufacturing become free. Consider:

Variety is free: It costs no more to make every product different than to make them all the same.

Complexity is free: A minutely detailed product, with many fiddly little components, can be 3-D printed as cheaply as a plain block of plastic.

Flexibility is free: Changing a product after production has started means just changing the instruction code.

2. From Doug Hendrie in Gizmag.com:

3D printing technologies have come a long way since their earliest incarnations as rapid product prototype makers. It’s now shaping up as the next disruptive technology and in medical science, 3D printing has huge potential. The latest advance comes from University of California, San Diego Nanoengineering Professor Shaochen Chen, whose group has demonstrated the ability to print three-dimensional blood vessels in seconds.

If the technique proves scalable, it could revolutionize regenerative medicine. Imagine being able to recover from a heart attack by replacing your faulty aortic valve with a brand new one, made of your own cells. No more pig valves, no more mechanical solutions, no more waiting for a donor. The donor is you.

13 thoughts on “3D printing: The next disruptive technology advances rapidly

  1. Count me skeptical. Any modern tool that has any utility is made up of different materials, is fairly strong, and usually has many separate parts. The notion that 3D printers will be able to deal with any of this complexity even after decades seems laughable to me. I realize that people are looking for the next big thing, but robotics seems much more likely to me, at least on the physical side. On the software side, there are boughs of low-hanging fruit in the internet sector, that people are constantly hitting their heads against yet are too stupid to pick. So the next big thing is still internet software, after which comes robotics.

    btw, now that you’re on WordPress, a Preview button for comments would be nice. That was the one nice feature about blogger, as bad as it was in so many other ways.

    • That’s what I used to say about smartphones: “I already have a cell phone, a GPS, an e-book reader, an MP3 player, a camera, a video recorder, and a great computer with internet access and a big screen. Why would anybody want all those things in one little device? It’s a gimmick, nothing more.” Boy, was I wrong. My smartphone is the most powerful tool I’ve ever owned.

      • I don’t see any connection whatsoever between mobile device convergence and the evolution of 3D printing. It takes a lot of painstaking fabrication and assembly to put all those capabilities into a modern smartphone, the notion that 3D printing is anywhere close to that level of complexity or will get there for decades is silly.

          • No, I got your point, it’s just silly. Whether you wanted a converged smartphone or not has nothing to do with whether 3D printing will ever be capable enough to put out anything more than fragile plastic prototypes. I suspect we will have robotic factories using our current processes long before we will have 3D printing of any use.

          • If that is your explanation then you did, in fact, miss my point.

            I suspect we will have robotic factories using our current processes long before we will have 3D printing of any use.

            I’ll save that statement to annoy you with when you are proven wrong.

  2. Am I the only one who thinks this is a bunch of utter hogwash? It might be fine for specialized applications, but makes no sense for the mass consumer. What are they going to print — plastic buttons, toothpicks, plugs, …? I haven’t exactly heard many complaints about lack of availability of such things. (“If only I could print me a new cup here and now!”) You won’t be able to make anything intricate, like electronics, appliances, or even slightly complex multi-part items. Most useful things these days are beyond practical 3-d printing — even pens, aluminum cans, and electrical wiring. Economies of scale win out for simple objects, while complex things require much more than a 3-d printer. This fad is poised to repeat the story of Josephson junctions. (If you have no idea what these are or when they were the next big thing, then I’ve made my point!)

    • I am actually very excited about this technolgy, however to your point I owned a Mattle Vacuform when I was a kid. I actually don’t see them aroud anymore.

  3. I have a shirt that I cant find a button for. It would be great to buy a $100 printer and say $20 of material and 4 or 5 hours of time and be able to make a 25 cent button.

  4. I agree. I’ve been watching it for a couple of years. Will revolutionize many aspects of industry. Maybe even get our manufacturing back from China? Possible because eliminates shipping.

    So which companies have become the leaders? Good stocks?

  5. I think both sides are kinda right and kinda wrong. I think people are absolutely correct in being skeptical about it becoming the next big CONSUMER item. It is too specialized for that. But it will prove revolutionary for the DO-IT-YOURSELF-er. For the kind of people who already have a router table and a welder, a 3D printer will be a wonderful addition to their workshop.

  6. Just remember that at one time nobody thought computers would be found in every home, now they are not only in your house, but on your person 24/7. It is extremely near-sighted to say 3D printing cannot become huge.

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