3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up

Susan Nunziata, Director of Editorial | 2/22/2013 | 106 comments

Susan Nunziata
3D printing has made it to the big time. At least, if you consider the "big time" to be a brief mention in the State of the Union address given by President Barack Obama.

In a recent New York Times blog post, "Disruptions: On the Fast Track to Routine 3-D Printing," author Nick Bilton cites several examples of 3D printing research and suggests that 3D printing shows more promise than other cutting-edge technologies endorsed by the President, such as solar and wind power. While the consumer implications of 3D printing spark the imagination, the practical applications are mostly in manufacturing right now.

3D technology vendor Geomagic (CEO Ping Fu was featured in a recent E2 blog post) offers case studies on its website that include how 3D scanning, modeling, and printing enable the rapid production of individually customized biomedical devices, such as cranial implants.

Of course, there have been optimistic predictions about 3D printing for some time. In the video below, from the TED 2011 conference, Lisa Harouni presented an informative, thought-provoking primer on "additive manufacturing" (also known as 3D printing).

Harouni also predicted that 2012 was going to be the year of 3D printing. Yep. 2012.

As with so many technologies that have come before (film, cable TV, videotapes, the Internet) it seems that adult-oriented pursuits may once again end up being the tipping point, as it were, for 3D printing in manufacturing. As Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported in its article Startups Shake Up the Sleepy Vibrator Market, engineers at We-Vibe "use a silicone-molding studio, 3D printers, and more than 400 mannequins with anatomically correct internal organs to develop and test prototypes."

Alrighty then.

3D printing: What it means for the OEM CIO
So what does all of this hoopla mean for the CIO in manufacturing? For starters, if you're not already seriously looking at how 3D scanning and printing can help your OEM operations, start now. The cost savings to be found that could make you look like a superstar. Prices for the technology are getting lower every day. There are also entirely new business models that can be built around what Geomagic's Ping Fu refers to as "mass customization." Thinking about 3D printing as a business strategy, as opposed to the latest technology fad, could go a long way toward helping your colleagues understand the benefits.

Looking for a place to start? Check out this transcript of a recent NPR radio show, From Guns To Chocolate: The Possibilities Of 3-D Printing.

OK, now that you've reviewed that, here are some additional considerations from an IT perspective:

  • What demands will 3D scanning and printing place on the network and IT infrastructure in your manufacturing operations?
  • How will it change the storage needs of your datacenter?
  • What security issues should you consider in evaluating 3D printing options?
  • What training will be necessary for your IT staff, and for those in your manufacturing environment, in order to make optimal use of 3D printing capabilities.

What say you? Is President Obama on the right track when it comes to 3D printing? Is your OEM operation considering 3D scanning and printing options? Are you already using these solutions to improve your operations? We want to know what you think. Share your comments in the space below.

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mwilsoncss   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/31/2013 2:17:42 PM
Re: 3-d printing the next big thing
I mentioned in a earlier thread, that we implemented a 3D barcode for an assembly line process. We used Ipods and strapped them to the assemplers arms with a bluetooth scanner in which they would scan the 3D barcode once the box was tapped and put on the pallet. The 3D barcode updated the inventory system with item details. No more hand keying for the assemblers with the elimination of keying errors. 
SaneIT   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/19/2013 7:23:32 AM
Re: Real Difference
Yes, I remember those fights and that's one of the reasons I worry about 3D printing.  I remember the days when VHS tapes were going to ruin the movie and TV industries becassue people were just going to bootleg all of their content.  I see similar arguments coming up against 3D printing and I'm afraid it will slow down the technical progress.
Susan Nunziata   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/18/2013 12:46:25 PM
Re: Real Difference
@SaneIT. Does anyone besides me remember the U.S. battles over digital audio tape, and [physical] digital recording devices in general? While legislators were busy chasing those red herrings, Napster swooped in and changed the music business forever with p2p filesharing, no phyiscal recording medium required, and nobody saw it coming.

We'll see which fate awaits 3D printing: overlegislationt out of the gate which will cripple it, or utter surprise after it becomes so widespread there's no stopping it. 
SaneIT   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/18/2013 8:32:14 AM
Re: Real Difference
If it takes decades for the legal system to catch up I suspect we'll see a lot of attempts to cripple the 3D printing industry before we really get things off the ground.
Susan Nunziata   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/15/2013 4:48:34 PM
Re: Real Difference
@SaneIT: I just hope legal concerns can be addressed as rapidly as the technical concerns.

You're right in hoping for that. However, if history holds any lessons in this regard, then it's safe to assume that legal resolutions will lag decades behind the technology innovations. 
SaneIT   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/15/2013 7:29:54 AM
Re: Real Difference
When I first heard about the inexpensive 3D printers my first thought was rapid prototyping then art/one off items.  I think that it's a great tool and it will only get better as the printers and materials mature.  Once these get into the hands of the really creative types we start seeing the potential, I just hope legal concerns can be addressed as rapidly as the technical concerns.
Susan Nunziata   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/14/2013 10:12:37 PM
Re: Real Difference
@SaneIT: Good point! I have heard that they have a whole pavilion of items made using 3D printers, though I'm sure you're right that these are original designs. I'm looking forward to this year's fair in the Bay Area so I can see for myself. 
SaneIT   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/6/2013 8:39:00 AM
Re: Real Difference
I love the Maker movement, and I agree that it's more of an artisan thing.  They tend to be creating and not copying though.   I'm sure they would be upset if someone was taking their work and duplicating it even if they are only making it for personal or artistic use.
Susan Nunziata   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/5/2013 8:49:43 PM
Re: Real Difference
@SaneIT: That is truly frightening. And as usual legislation and enforcement is lagging in this area. I'm not even sure how you could police this, frankly, given the need for expertise and testing that would be required to confirm the authenticity and safety of such parts. I'll try very hard not to think about this next time I board an airplane...
Susan Nunziata   3D Printing Gets Ready for Its Close-Up   3/5/2013 8:47:13 PM
Re: Real Difference
@SaneIT: It's true. Then again, there remains a thriving market for these innovative artisans'' handiwork. There's a growing "Makers" movement that places value on handmade and unusual invention. A friend recently told me about Maker Faire and I'm planning to attend the event in the Bay Area later this year. 

Even there, though, you get a mix of old & new, as noted in this article about 3D printing from last year's event: Busy Retiree's Filament Extruder Wins Fabrication Competition.
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