When 3D printing first came out, most major publications were contemplating whether this new technology was just a fad, or if it was going to change the course of the world as we know it. No one has come up with any conclusions, but it looks like the general consensus is that 3D printing is here to stay. If the proliferation of 3D printers is inevitable, what will the future of these marvelous devices look like? Will manufacturing processes eventually be replaced by 3D printers? To find out, we must dive into the world of 3D printing and see what it’s done so far, and then draw conclusions based on our findings.
Who’s Going To Be Using 3D Printers?
In all likelihood, 3D printers will continue to find new and interesting applications. However, 3D printing becomes highly useful especially in the medical field. They provide a cheap way to reproduce special casts, hip replacements, and other prosthetics. Of course, hospitals aren’t the only ones interested in these critters. Space engineers find 3D printing to be highly useful in their fields as well! They believe that 3D printing might be just the thing they need to colonize other celestial worlds.
Aside from these ambitious purposes, 3D printers have also found a home in the hobbyist’s dwelling. A 3D printer can help them create collectibles and objects that they are fond of. Everything from toys to guns have come out of this new technology, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. These printers have even found a niche market in culinary arts!
In the near future, we might see bio engineering and other sophisticated scientific fields using 3D printers, much like these folks. Because of the large range of applications this technology can be used in, it’s doubtful whether 3D printing will ever really die. Once you release a behemoth, there’s no stopping it!
What About Manufacturing?
I have my doubts about whether 3D printing will be able to replace even a small portion of the manufacturing sector. Perhaps in highly-technical applications (such as the creation of CPUs and other computer hardware), it will surpass current modern manufacturing techniques. Two conditions need to be met for 3D printing to become feasible for mass manufacturing:
- They need to produce objects faster than conventional manufacturing processes.
- They need to be compatible with a diverse amount of materials, which must also be cheaper than they currently are.
Of course, the prospect of replacing manufacturing processes with 3D printers isn’t too far fetched. It might actually work. And if it does, we’ll probably be seeing a decline in the amount of specialized manufacturing plants (and pollution) on a global scale. Today’s manufacturing processes can be designed to produce one particular thing (i.e. a Mercedes plant can only produce Mercedes cars, but not pens and paperclips). 3D printers would eliminate this hindrance and allow smaller manufacturers to adapt to market changes. The risk of starting a factory would be nearly non-existent until the market is completely saturated. We’d practically have a new frontier that presents an unbelievable amount of consumer choices.
Refuting The Refutation
The Technology Review has posted an article about how 3D printing will “go the way of virtual reality.” Despite the fact that many concepts in virtual reality (such as augmented reality) are used widely by technologies that supersede it, there’s some merit to what writer Christopher Mims said. But here are a few reasons why I think that 3D printing isn’t going to become a dinosaur technology:
- We cannot operate under the assumption that 3D printing will stay the way it is today. It’s a constantly evolving technology just like any other. Its first iterations involved making objects out of layers of extruded and heated plastic, but we are now seeing 3D printers that can create metallic objects. Sure, it’s not a viable technology for every use at this point, but that’s not going to stop some people from trying to make cheaper methods of printing things.
- Mims makes a great point about how printing things out of plastic is somewhat inferior to building things out of wood, and that we might actually see more, not less, wooden objects. While this is true, we cannot discount the fact that many industries may still find these materials more useful than wood. After all, hip replacements cannot be made of oak.
It would be wonderful to have a full discussion about this, and that’s why I am now inviting you, the reader, to comment on this article below!