Last month, I really enjoyed sharing thoughts about tech trends for 2016. Today let’s look more closely at one of the trends, additive manufacturing and the rapid advancement of 3-D printing. Clayton Christensen describes a disruptive innovation as a process by “which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors”. – See more at: http://www.claytonchristensen.com/key-concepts/#sthash.f2UKXqfd.dpuf. Additive manufacturing is emerging as a disruptive innovation.
Companies are turning the ways they traditionally manufacture upside down with additive manufacturing. It’s amazing how companies such as General Electric is planning to produce fuel nozzles for new aircraft engine by printing the critical part. Traditionally parts like this are cast in a model and then welded to the fuel assembly. GE is revolutionizing the manufacturing process by using additive manufacturing to print the part with lasers (See https://www.technologyreview.com/s/513716/additive-manufacturing/).
Additive manufacturing produces objectives by adding ultrathin layers of material under computer control to create a three-dimensional object. Additive manufacturing uses 3D printers to make a solid object from a digital file. 3D printing processes are comprised of a virtual design of an object that can be created through CAD file using a 3D modeling program or with a scan generated through a 3D scanner. This is opening the door to radically “democratize” manufacturing.
My introduction to 3D printing originated through my experience providing digital literacy training to help bridge emerging digital divides. My colleagues and I received a grant to develop the Illinois Digital Innovation Leadership Program (http://dilp.lis.illinois.edu/). Our team includes the University of Illinois Extension Service and the Champaign-Urbana FabLab. We focus on using a collection of mobile digital manufacturing labs comprised 3D printers and other additive manufacturing tools to teach individuals, particularly youth, about digital producing and making. As my colleague, Dr. Jeff Ginger, Director of the CU FabLab explains, “We teach people how to use digital technology, but also to understand what they do with it, why they do it, and how to share that with other people”. It is an incredible experience to see people of all ages activate their imagination and manufacture so many different things.
And by using 3D printers in a maker’s space, it is also helping to understand about digital manufacturing. One of the CU FabLab staff made this really clear with a pair of glasses. The staff member broke his eye-glasses. He scanned the glasses and printed a new pair with the 3D printer, popped out the old lenses, and inserted them into the newly produced frames. The hobbyist project became an interesting lesson about customized, flexible manufacturing. Once word spread, the requests came pouring in to produce replacements for many household objects from hard to find parts for a coffee maker, antique farm tractors, toys, game pieces and so on.
3D printing pioneer Charles Hull refers to 3D printing as the third industrial revolution. 3D printers uses are emerging in so many areas. Recent breakthroughs include using 3D printers in healthcare, industrial manufacturing, and food production. In healthcare, applications are being developed for implants, prosthetics, and dental devices. Consumer items like jewelry can be custom-made.
One of the most compelling applications has been the breakthrough to 3D print an automobile. Collaborating with the Oak Ridge National Labs, Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, produced the world’s first 3D printed automobile called the Strati (https://localmotors.com/3d-printed-car/). The car was manufactured using a Large Scale 3D Printer developed by ORNL and Cincinnati Inc.. The car took just 44 hours to print during the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Illinois.
Here’s the disruptive innovation dimension of 3D printing. 3D printing in industrial settings allows manufacturers to produce highly customized objects economically. In traditional manufacturing, once the manufacturing equipment is set up, economies of scale are achieved by producing large quantities of the same object. With 3D printing, the costs to set up the equipment arenegligible as the printer can produce any shape layer by layer. Companies are developing “smart supply chains”. Instead of producing and storing large inventories of objects, the objects can be produced on demand and then shipped directly to customers. Imagine new supply chain models evolve with the ability to work with a wide variety of consumable materials grows along side developing ways to build libraries to produce consumables and ways to protect intellectual property.
Links for previous article series:
(1) Knowledge Management: Digitally Transforming Knowledge into Intelligence
(2) Smart Cities, Data Warehouses, Data Lakes and the Information Management Challenge
(3) Mobile Phones, Location Awareness, and Your Digital Entourage
(4) Thoughts on Tech Trends for 2016
Written by Jon Gant, LG CNS Blog’s Regular Contributor