Written BY: Pooja. Thakkar
We all know what “to print” stands for. But 3D printing conjures up images like 3D images and printing; just not knowing how both of these go together.
How about printing the glass figurines, iPad covers or shoes. It all seems ambiguous right now but 3D Printing may revolutionize the way we define and interact with manufacturing.
Chief among the proponents of this view is The Economist, speculating in a February cover story that the technology “has the potential to transform manufacturing because it lowers the costs and risks,” thus opening it to smaller players. It’s not hard to see this line of logic. Just picture a local craftsman able to make his own customized bicycle using parts created from his printer.
“3D printing will for sure be a new mode of manufacturing,” says Peter Weijmarshausen, the CEO of Shapeways, which creates 3D objects for consumers. “People are no longer only happy with mass-produced products that all look the same. That is just what mass production has given them. With 3D printing you can produce en masse custom and personalized products at perhaps almost the same prices.”
At the moment, 3D printing is more of a curiosity than a threat to the status quo. One roadblock holding up the revolution is cost. For example, Z Corp’s 3D printers range from $14,900 to $59,900 in the U.S. It may be steep but the costs balance out, says Scott Harmon, Z Corp’s vice president of business development. “More important than the purchase price is the operating cost,” Harmon said. The total expense for finished models is $2 to $3 per cubic inch.
“As 3D printing generates scale with these new products, it will become increasingly price- and quality-competitive with traditional manufacturing techniques for a broader array of products,” says Z Corp’s Harmon.