There has been a tremendous amount of excitement about 3D printing in recent years, and the web has long been buzzing with talk of how this new technology will change the world. But these discussions are no longer limited to the future tense. 3D printing is already changing the world. Whereas the early days of additive manufacture produced little more than art projects, conceptual models, and novelty goods––today 3D printing is revolutionizing the way we build, design, and interact with a vast range of objects. Rather than carving into and reshaping raw materials, additive manufacturing allows us to use materials in radically new ways. Having been reduced to inks, today’s materials are more versatile than ever, and our ability to engineer and create has been vastly expanded.
The first 3D printers were used for rapid prototyping, and produced inexpensive plastic models. But the technology has since evolved to encompass a wide range of materials, from alloys and resins to human tissue. Today’s printers can build cardiac patches, aeronautical components, and even fully functioning car batteries in a single process. 3D printing reduces material waste, significantly increases production speed, and allows engineers to design objects that are impossible to manufacture by traditional means.
3D Printing Takes to the Apps
Since its manufacturing revolution, 3D printing as entered the app market. Available on the Apple store, downloadable on mobile devices are apps like Sculpteo App. If you want to 3D print your personal collection you can. A free app that allows you to discover a one of a kind collection, all you have to do is browse the collection and stamp your mark on it. Make 3D objects your own, customize as you please, and you can either buy print or share your collection; as they say the 3D world is your oyster!
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Another incredible aspect of 3D printing, which holds profound economic implications, is the relative affordability and portability of these printers. Models range from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands, but many inexpensive printers are sophisticated enough to allow average people to manufacture items in their garages that were once impossible to make outside specialized machine shops. We can now print replacement parts when our cars break down, new chew toys for our pets, components for model rockets, and even weapons. As hobbyists and DIYers begin making more and more objects at home, rather than purchasing them in stores, we may soon see a substantial shift in consumer behavior.
While it certainly affects finance on a microeconomic scale, 3D printing is also having a profound macroeconomic impact. There can be little question that this technology will soon replace traditional CNC manufacturing. But if one nation is able to transition their production base faster than the rest of the world, they will gain an important advantage by emerging as a world leader in 3D printing. At Beijing’s recent World 3D Printing Technology Industry Conference, Luo Jun, the CEO of the Asian Manufacturing Association speculated that Chinese 3D printing companies will generate revenue in excess of 10 billion Yuan in the next three years––a signal that the nation is already undergoing a widespread industrial transformation.
3D Printing Jobs
As the manufacturing industry increasingly transitions away from CNC, the workforce demographic is shifting too. Designers, material scientists, and technicians specializing in additive manufacture are in particularly high demand today, while jobs for machinists and industrial coders are gradually beginning to evaporate. In the medical field, bioprinting has also given rise to an innovative research field, as the convergence of engineering and healthcare creates demand for an altogether new breed of technical specialist.
There can be little doubt that 3D printing will have a profound impact on worldwide economics as it fundamentally revises our methods of traditional manufacturing. But precisely how and when these changes will occur are impossible to know. While some predict that 3D printing will restructure the entire workforce, many others foresee milder changes. In any case, the economic potential of this revolutionary technology leaves many unanswered questions and a great deal of lingering excitement. As it develops, and proliferates across the globe, its impacts upon our lives will surely begin to manifest themselves in powerful ways.
Author: Jenny Ann previously worked within the engineering and manufacturing world when she found a international vacancy abroad through the Telegraph Engineering Jobs board. Who knows, you may be the next successful international 3D Designer!