3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing
The Economist this week has an interesting “special report” on the future of manufacturing. See http://www.economist.com/node/21552901 for the lead article.
There is much debate in the US about the importance of manufacturing – although the country is still the world leader in manufacturing output. The NY Times recently had a major story, headlined in its print edition “Never Mind Factories. Think Services.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/11/business/economy/should-us-services-companies-get-breaks-abroad.html), with quotes like this:
“There is for some reason this manufacturing fetish in America that is not consistent with U.S.’s fundamental economic interests.” said Aaditya Mattoo, the research manager at the World Bank.
There was also a NY Times op-ed in February entitled “An Order of Prosperity, to Go”, touting the importance of exporting services. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/17/opinion/17cox.html)
Meanwhile, many Americans and people in other industrialized nations are worried about competing with China in traditional industrial manufacturing. While that won’t disappear, it’s clear that manufacturing itself will undergo a dramatic change. This is likely to result in very different patterns of manufacturing than are part of the current world trade scene. In a sense, 3D printing combines services and manufacturing in a very decentralized, but Internet-based, way.
This new pattern should be part of every public official’s view of future economic growth. It is one more way that this century will resemble less and less the industrial era that still dominates the mindset of too many of those who are responsible for our economy. As one of those in the Economist said:
“it [3D printing] means the factory of the future could be me, sitting in my home office.”
By the way, The Economist article focuses on additive 3D manufacturing, but there is also now 3D computer-based manufacturing that is subtractive (like a sculptor with a large block of granite). See, for example, http://www.makepartsfast.com/2011/10/2624/reviving-model-making-for-architects-and-other-geo-professionals/
© 2012 Norman Jacknis