3D printing and the end of ‘made in China’

Can creativity beat quantity? For most of the last thirty years, the manufacturing process was the long pole in the tent, so the work went to the cheapest places where mass production = competitive pricing. 3D printing promises to turn this on its head and make creativity matter again.

3D Printing

If you watch the trends there’s been a splash of announcements from 3D printing startups and secured funding, most recently Form1 receiving 6 times its target on Kickstarter. Affordable and home 3D printing has the potential to be possibly the most disruptive manufacturing technology seen in recent years. Right now the ‘affordable’ tag is somewhat dubious but as the initial cost of entry falls to within reasonable mass consumer use and not just for the wealthy early adopter I can see all those small, mass producers of fun trinkets and complete tat disappearing very quickly. Not only that, but established brands that have been household names for generations will go out of business (Hornby, Airfix anyone ?) Like the massive collapse in retail stores recently due to the economic crisis and online demand the entire manufacturing landscape could change forever. And here’s why:

  • 3D designs are already circulating via Phisibles on Pirate Bay, it won’t take long before people start selling them on eBay for profit
  • 3D objects will quickly follow suit in eBay, ETSY, Moonpig….
  • Those clever enough and with business savvy will start to eat away larger manufacturer patches by offering smaller, bespoke services for resellers or ‘print your own design’ for consumers.
  • Creativity will suddenly become currency over quantity again
  • Affordable printing will mean you can design and build Grandma/ Dad/ <insert relative here> their next birthday gift rather than trawl the shops looking for something ‘unique’
  • Who needs an expensive designer furniture piece when you can knock one up yourself and be the envy of all your inkjet wielding friends ?
  • School homework will be to design and print off an atomic structure/ architecture/ idea and show and tell the following week
  • A 3D printed exhibit will be crowned a Turner prize winner

Massive implications indeed!

This raises a lot of copyright issues however. Like the famous Jamie Thomas file sharing case, patent holders will be chasing down anyone who trades in either designs or the ‘real’ physical object itself. But that’s not the end of it. There are now examples of people using simple techniques and conductive ink to print circuit boards. With a few extra components from Maplins and your local PC warehouse you could potentially build homemade computer equipment.

What’s next, create your own 3D printer using a 3D printer ?

Only recently is was reported that a collaborative team worked to manufacture an actual AR-15 rifle, printing off respective parts separately for assembly later. This poses a massive problem and security risk for a start but also shows how disruptive this technology can be. “Made in China” will be replaced by “Made in the garage”, with friends banding together to create their own pseudo-assembly line, spreading their designs to a wider community for improvement and further refinement. Homebrew Manufacturing will reign in a few years once this technology matures.

When it does, come by my stall in the front garden and I’ll sell you a freshly printed Lamborghini….literally hot off the press.

This article first appeared on BPMRedux and has been lightly edited.

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Categories: Disruption, Innovation, Manufacturing

Author:Theo Priestley

"I had more creative ideas from Theo in 6 months than I have had in 6 years from most people." Theo Priestley is one of the most recognised independent technology industry influencers and evangelists, ranking in the Top 100 thought leaders across Virtual/ Augmented Reality, FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things and future trends. Theo has written insights for Forbes, Wired, The European Magazine, Venturebeat to name a few, and has been interviewed for many online publications including the BBC on his thoughts on technology and the future. A regular paid keynote speaker and panelist at conferences and events, Theo is engaged for his forthright views and isn't afraid to challenge conventional thinking and the marketing hype surrounding the industry when presenting, never pulling punches to get the message across on how technology can be applied to improve business and the customer experience. He has also successfully organised and run TEDx and Ignite events. Highly active across social networks, he sits in the Top 1% for social media engagement on Kred and Klout and is constantly sharing articles and his analysis that he feels his audience would be interested in. Theo is also active in the startup community, mentoring within UK and US accelerators and sits on a number of advisory boards. Former VP and Chief Technology Evangelist at a Top 25 European enterprise software company with a career spanning both innovation strategy and delivery of software and business change in Financial Services, and as an independent technology industry analyst. Follow Theo on Twitter @tprstly or connect here directly for constant insights on tech and marketing trends. • Top 1% Influencer on Kred (915) • Top 1% Influencer on Klout (70+) • 12,000+ Followers on LinkedIn • 13,000+ Followers on Twitter • Recognised Top Influencer in AI, Virtual/ Augmented Reality, Fintech, IOT and Wearable Tech, Big Data and Analytics.

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One Comment on “3D printing and the end of ‘made in China’”

  1. kraftwurx
    December 9, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    At Kraftwurx, we absolutely love this article. Since 2006, we’ve been building solutions for 3D printed manufacturing on a global scale. Our core product, Digital Factory is already being used on http://www.kraftwurx.com and will be made available starting in Q1 2013 for anyone wanting a site Like ours. This has been our intention since the inception of the company and we support a globally distributed, socially responsible and environmentally friendly manufacturing network. That’s why we have over 110 production facilities in our growing global network of facilities that make products as close to the customer as possible.

    Unlike other companies playing in this emerging sector, Kraftwurx is a US company, creating jobs in the USA and making products here in the USA. The profits of all sales on Kraftwurx also go back into the USA unlike our competition.

    Additionally, Kraftwurx makes locally, including around the world. If someone in Australia orders a product from our site, we do our best to make the product in Australia. We do the same around the world. This brings work to the country where the product is made which is truly socially responsible.

    learn more at http://www.kraftwurx.com, visit us at CES in Las Vegas too!

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