Industry Insights

5 Examples of How 3D Printing is Changing the World

3D printing is certainly a buzz phrase of late. For those who are unfamiliar, 3D printing, or additive printing, is the process of making a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model. It is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. The rapid introduction of applications are seemingly endless, and even shocking—here are a few examples of how 3D printing is changing the world.

  1. NASA 3D Printing in Space: In 2014, astronauts on the International Space Station will be able to instantly create the tools and replacement materials they need, as opposed to waiting months for them to be shipped from Earth.
  2. 3D Designer Chocolate: Nestle South Africa commissioned several artists to design unique chocolate sculptures that were created on Android’s new operating system (named “KitKat”) using freely available 3D modelling tools.
  3. Printing Personalized Footwear: New Balance is piloting a service that scans a consumer’s foot and then custom makes a highly specialized shoe in order to optimize fit, comfort, and performance. Artist Janne Kyttanen has created a line of 3D printed, high-heeled shoes that can be downloaded for free, printed overnight, and worn the next day.
  4. 3D Printing Pharmaceuticals: Professor Lee Cronin from the University of Glasgow is using a 3D printer produce organic and/or inorganic reactions that can yield chemicals, and in some cases new compounds. His team is currently working on printing ibuprofen, the main ingredient in popular painkillers.
  5. “Bioprinting” the Human Body: With the ability to print prosthetics and replacement bones already in full effect, scientists say “bioprinting”, or using a patient’s own body cells to reconstruct organs, is only a decade away.

So what for CP?

  • Supply chains will become more location elastic:  Because items can be printed anywhere at near identical cost, production can be relocated closer to where products will be actually used, thus minimizing costs of long-distance shipping.
  • Costs of complexity will be lowered (if not eliminated): Little to no cost differences between producing simple and complex products will disrupt traditional manufacturing pricing models.
  • Economies of scale will be challenged: With limited overhead costs and zero production waste associated with the 3D printing process, economies of scale may no longer correlate as much with competitive advantage.
  • Assembly requirements can be drastically reduced: Less assembly will shorten supply chains, saving money on labor and transportation, and reducing environmental impact.
  • Further Democratization of Innovation: 3D printing will provide anyone and everyone the ability to prototype rapidly.

What do you think? How profound an impact will 3D printing have on CP?

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Ralph Jacobson

Wow! Great ideas, Julia! The sky is truly the limit here. I’m interested to see more CPG examples


Christopher S. Rollyson

@Julia, thanks for the nice summary, I especially like the “So what for CP” ideas. I predict that additive “manufacturing” will disrupt the entire *concept* of mass-produced products. “Build to stock” will continue, but for a much smaller portion of things that people use. I predict that, in 20 years, people will scratch their heads and wonder how people (us) could have POSSibly bought products that weren’t made specifically for them. Do you realize that, before the industrial revolution, “products” as we think of them today didn’t exist? Everything was a service, made to order. We are going back there, only with exciting automation help like 3D. I riffed longer on this in a report on Knowledge Economy Products and the Future of Manufacturing.

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