Additive Manufacturing’s Path from Gimmick to Industrial Game-Changer

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Additive Manufacturing’s Path from Gimmick to Industrial Game-Changer

In October 2012, Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson published his book, Makers:  The New Industrial Revolution.1  In the book, he boldly predicted that 3D printers would follow the path of PCs and become a fixture in every home.  This would lead to a future in which everyone routinely printed out whatever they might need, from a collar for the family pet, to a replacement for a broken part on the washing machine, to tiny furniture for the children’s dollhouse. 

Beyond that, he predicted that everyday consumers would become product designers, uploading blueprints to websites where others would pay a small fee to download them.  Or as Anderson put it, “the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts is about to be unleashed upon the economy, driving a new age of American manufacturing.”

A few months after the book’s publication, we warned you that only the second half of that quote would turn out to be true.  While a majority bought into Anderson’s vision of the “maker revolution,” we spelled out the reasons that it was likely to fizzle out.  (Please refer to the trend The Maker Movement and Its Implications for details.2

However, Anderson was correct in imagining “a new age of American manufacturing.”  It’s just that most of the manufacturers won’t be individual consumers toiling away in their garages, basements, and living rooms.  Instead, there will be traditional manufacturers that are savvy enough to see the potential of the new technology, as well as innovative startups that will be built from the ground up as 3D manufacturers.

So where does this technology stand today? 

A good place to begin is with the “Gartner Hype Cycle,” which plots new technologies against the predictable phases they go through.  Consumers’ adoption of 3D printer for home use is the application that is currently the farthest from becoming a reality. 

According to industry blog ALL3DP (for “all about 3D printing”), “That consumer 3D printing is far away, makes sense since the technology needs to become much faster [and more] reliable, and materials science needs to advance significantly...

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