In the July/August 2013 issue of Business Credit, I informed readers that the future is already here, it just needs to be created by 3D printing. In that article, I began the discussion of what 3D printing (3DP) is and the effect it will have on our lives. In this article, I will discuss the possibilities further, and what industries and countries stand to be the most impacted, whether for better or worse.
3D printing is the process of "printing" an object layer by layer, fusing them as the object is built. Anything can be scanned and reproduced or scanned, adjusted and printed. 3D printing is an industry with seemingly unlimited growth and market potential. The boom in this industry may be near, as the core patents for selective laser sintering (SLS) technology expired last month, opening the field to more research and development and eventually lowering the cost for the printers based on this technology. SLS manufacturing improvements could lead to a vast reduction in the cost associated with making certain goods within five years. This will lead to a huge revolution in mass production and the way items are distributed.
With the expiration of the SLS patents, prices will eventually drop for this costly 3D printer. However, 3D printers based on fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology are available now from about $500-2,500, and internet and brick-and-mortar businesses already exist, selling 3DP machines, supplies and objects and offer services much like an Etsy forum where individuals can sell their printed objects. If you don't own a 3D printer, you can buy what you want or have one of these businesses make it for you. To learn more about 3DP technology and printing, refer to my previous article or use a search engine to look up "selective laser sintering" and "fused deposition modeling." To see what's currently being printed and sold, take a look at websites like Shapeways.com or Thingiverse.com.
In February 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned in his State of the Union Address (www.youtube. com/watch?v=01gJYQEyBWc) that 3D technology "has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything" and announced plans to open a network of 15 self-manufacturing sites in the United States as a way of revolutionizing the economy. Companies like Xerox and Hewlett Packard are already, or have announced plans to be, active in this market, and a natural assumption is to think that other companies already in the business of manufacturing printers and associated products, such as Epson, Canon and Lexmark, will follow. Other industries and whole countries are also already active. GE Aviation and Honeywell Aerospace will invest $3.5 billion over the next five years, and Singapore announced it will invest around $400 million during the same timeframe. China is about to invest $245 million to speed up developments, while private companies in China are already making similar investments.
Once the average business and consumer owns 3DP technology, we will see a revolution in design and manufacturing. The plans for just about anything imaginable will be available for purchase, download and printing from internet sites. Practically anything will be able to be scanned and personalized. For example, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam collaborated with Fujifilm in Japan to print an exact copy of an original Van Gogh painting last year.
In my last article, I rattled off some of the things a consumer will be able to do in their own home. I plan to scan and print my own Chinese Xi-An terracotta army chess set, a self-designed surfboard and Alhambra tiles for my bathroom, among other things. It is going to be a funny and colorful world.
Here are a few things that are already possible to print:
* Pizza, burritos, candy, chocolate and cheese in various shapes and colors.
* Helmets, facemasks and other sports equipment specific to your dimensions. …