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."
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.