Remember 3D manufacturing? Or additive manufacturing, as those in the know called it? We’ve all played with 3-D printers by now, but for a while there we were seeing extravagant claims for this technology.
We were expecting 3-D printed clothing, food, and prosthetic body parts. Ordering a pizza would take place entirely in your home kitchen, with spools of printer filament made from pizza dough and vegetables. We figured houses would be made entirely by 3-D printers, and shopping would be unnecessary. Your home 3-D printer would just spit out the consumer goods you needed.
One of the earliest promises of 3D printing was the ability to customize and personalize products to a level previously thought impossible. The technology offered the potential to create unique, bespoke items tailored to an individual’s preferences, sizes, and needs. This concept has been successfully applied in industries such as fashion, jewelry, and even consumer electronics. Customized prosthetics and medical implants are another remarkable outcome of 3D printing, where each piece can be intricately designed to match a patient’s anatomy.
But that wonderful home 3-D printer that makes anything you want? That’s not actually happening. Most ordinary household objects will get to you cheaper and faster if you just order them online. You might be willing to go to the trouble to create the very special guitar pick, but we don’t think many people are creating special custom phone holders or shelf brackets, let alone shoes.
Prototyping and rapid iterations
Before 3D printing, prototyping was a time-consuming process that often involved crafting molds or models by hand, which could take weeks or even months. 3D printing was expected to drastically reduce this lead time, enabling faster design iteration and more agile development cycles. These expectations have been met, as engineers and designers can now rapidly create physical prototypes from digital designs, accelerating the innovation process across industries.
It’s a good way to get a custom part to fit a specific need, or to produce lumps or metal or plastic of roughly the right size and shape to send on to a CNC machine for finishing.
But when it’s time to make more than one of an item, the drawbacks show up. Making the 367th copy of an item is no cheaper and not much faster than making that first one. Mass production offers economies of scale that make 3-D printing pointless when you want to scale up a product for multiple users.
What can we learn from this?
Hindsight is always 20/20. We probably couldn’t have predicted that additive manufacturing wouldn’t be able to give traditional manufacturing a run for its money by now.
It’s something to keep in mind, though, when we think about how AI will completely revolutionize manufacturing or how humanoid robots will end physical labor as we know it. Sometimes new technologies live up to their prime, if not up to their hype.
Sometimes they don’t.
If you’re still using your Indramat systems in your facility, keep us in mind when you need service and support. We’re Indramat specialist with decades ion experience. We’ll get you back up and running fast.