Good news in print: 3D printing
The progress of science and technology has brought new development in the printing field. "3D printing" is the favorite of the printing industry from the concept to the real production, because it can realize the intelligence of printing, which will greatly reduce the production cost of enterprises.
"3D printing" makes single-product manufacturing almost as cheap as mass production, which is bound to undermine economies of scale. Its impact on the world may be comparable to that of the factory.
It works like this. First, you build a rough 3D model on your computer and make the necessary modifications to its shape and color. Then you simply press the "print" button, and the machine next to you will start working quietly, making a slight whoop and printing out your model little by little. Whether it's filling the nozzle with material or fixing the thin layer of plastic/metal powder with a adhesive or laser, the machine does it.
The technology is also known as additive manufacturing, because the finished product is made from gradually laying out the material, that is, one layer at a time. The technology allows car parts, lampshades and even violins to be made with astonishing precision.
The advantage of this technology is that it does not require a factory to operate. Small items can be made by machines like desktop printers that can be placed directly in cafes, shops and even homes. Larger items, such as bike frames, car plates, airplane parts, and so on, require larger machines and space.
So far, the technology has had some limitations, such as limiting materials to plastics, resins and metals, with accuracy of only a few tens of millimeters.
Like computers in the late 1970s, only a handful of college or specialty hobbyists and workers now use 3D printing. But like computers, the technology is spreading rapidly as it advances and costs fall. The price of a basic 3D printer is now lower than it was in 1985.
Just press print
This "additive manufacturing technology" has many advantages over traditional production methods. Because there is no production line, it reduces the production cost and greatly reduces the waste of materials, which is only one tenth of the original material. It can also make objects of special shapes that are difficult to do in traditional ways, such as airplane wings. Heat exchangers and so on. In short, the technology makes it cheaper and faster to make a single item, which designers can quickly modify and "print" new samples.
For years, 3D printers have been used to make samples, especially in aerospace, medical and automotive industries. Once the design is completed, the production line will be established and the subsequent production and assembly of components will be undertaken. But 3D printing has been improving and is already being used in the final stages of production. In a project to manufacture thousands of products, it has been sufficiently competitive with injection molding technology that, as the technology matures, it is bound to be applicable to larger scale production. And because each product is created independently, rather than produced from a single mold, each product can even be slightly different without additional production costs.
In short, mass production of 3D printing technology will make it possible to make scale customization, whether for children's products, shoes, eyes or even kitchen utensils.
By lowering the threshold for mass production, 3D printing can foster innovation. If you design a model on a computer, you can print a dozen to see if there is a market for it, then print 50, distribute it to some users, and gather their feedback to modify your design.
This is a huge benefit for inventors and startups, and the risks and costs of developing new products will be greatly reduced. And just as open source programmers share software code when they collaborate, engineers have begun to collaborate on open source designs for three-dimensional shapes and hardware.
Reduce labor demand
Such a profound technological change would result in a dramatic change in the factors of production, which some believe would completely decentralize operations and thus change the urbanization pattern brought about by industrialization. According to this logic, large factories will no longer be needed when every village has a manufacturing machine ready to make all kinds of parts. That may be true to a certain extent, but the economic and social benefits of cities go far beyond attracting Labour to production lines.
Others insist that by reducing the demand for Labour in factories, 3D printing will reduce the competitive advantage of low-cost, low-wage countries, allowing manufacturing to move back to the developed world in large Numbers. That could happen, but Asia, like manufacturers elsewhere, is ready to embrace the new technology. And even if 3D printing does bring manufacturing back to developed countries, it is unlikely to create many jobs because it is less labour-intensive than standard manufacturing.
The technology will affect not only capital and jobs, but also intellectual property (IP) rules. When any product can be condensed into a digital file, it will become easier to copy and distribute, and thus more vulnerable to piracy, except for music. Consider that when a toy, or a pair of shoes, is uploaded to the Internet, the more likely its author is to lose intellectual property.
There will surely be some regulations on 3D printing in the future. Meanwhile, relevant intellectual property laws and lawsuits will be constantly improved. As open source software emerges, new non-commercial models will emerge. It is not clear whether 3D printing will make existing rules more stringent (perhaps constraining innovation) or more relaxed (perhaps encouraging piracy). There is no doubt that lawyers are rubbing their hands.
One thing, at least, seems clear: while 3D printing will create winners and losers, in the short term, and in the long term, it will expand the industry and imagination.
The effects of great inventions were unpredictable at the time, the steam engine in 1750, the printing press in 1450, and the transistor in 1950. Today, we still can't predict how 3D printing will change the world over the long term. But the technology has arrived and will change every area it touches. It is time for companies, regulators and entrepreneurs to think about it.
One thing is certain, at least for now: while 3D printing may create a "happy and sad" situation in the short term, in the long run it will open up new areas of the industrial kingdom and greatly enrich the imagination of industrial production.