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The Second 3D Printing Revolution

Competition between the reigning kings of additive manufacturing and the start-up innovators taking advantage of their expired patents could drive an explosive new era in the rise of 3D printing.

Competition between the reigning kings of additive manufacturing and the start-up innovators taking advantage of their expired patents could drive an explosive new era in the rise of 3D printing.
If 3D printing is a revolution, it is the slowest revolution we’ve ever seen.

For the past 30 years, the core technologies of additive manufacturing have grown out of Chuck Hull’s corner lab, Scott Crump’s garage, and Carl Deckard’s dorm room into an array of tools that are slowly redefining how we manufacture, what we manufacture, and our basic concept of manufacturing possibility.

In this sense, it’s much less a revolution as a slow evolution of three distinct revolutionary ideas: stereolithography, fused deposition modeling, and laser sintering.

Over the past few decades, these technologies have evolved from producers of rough plastic prototypes into makers of beautiful, robust finished products that have found their way into our jets, into our engines, and onto our factory floors.

So far, this progress has been led by the 3D printing companies born out of the core inventions –disruptive, monolithic corporations built by and around founders and patent holders whose dedication and passion over the decades have turned these technologies into useful, practical tools.

But now something interesting has happened.

Because of this long build up and this long evolution, all three of these technologies have gone into public domain. This means that these core systems are no longer in the hands of the companies that built them; they are now also in the hands of a new generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, dabblers, and engineers.

We’ve already seen amazing products pop up out of this. Over just the last few months, we’ve seenCarbon3D’s insane system that grows parts out of liquid 25-100 times faster than previous technologies; we’ve seen affordable desktop direct metal laser sintering machines popping up on Kickstarter; we’ve seen free-standing robots building bridges across canals, and plastic parts infused with carbon fiber for ultra-strong, ultra-rugged new capabilities.

We are seeing true innovation in the hands of a global community of disruptors.

These new players are adding to the global 3D printing industry, offering new technologies and new directions for the industry while they spur the monoliths to new innovations of their own.

Together, that will translate into a full-scale explosion of new tools and capabilities that are ready for us to put to work.

I mark this is the second 3D printing revolution, a movement out of inventor-owner age of additive manufacturing and into an unrestrained era of pure innovation.

It creates a picture of manufacturing that is amazing and limitless – one that might just live up to the hype the 3D printing industry has consistently garnered.

But mostly, it reinforces the promise additive manufacturing has offered us all along: The future is amazing. 

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