Almost every day we discover a novel new application for 3D printing. We have seen 3D-printed body parts, 3D-printed guns, and just this week, Local Motors unveiled the world’s first 3D-printed car which you will eventually be able to download and print yourself!
While it was once an exciting niche, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has now entered the electronic consumer market at reasonably affordable prices. Large 3D printers are also being increasingly used in the manufacturing industry to produce bigger objects and for mass production.
This is a revolutionary development. In fact, the European Commission’s ‘Futurium’ says that 3D printing and digital manufacturing will change the world to a similar or even bigger extent than the Web did over the last decade. Try to imagine that!
How can the effect be so enormous? By reducing the labour cost of manufacturing to near-zero %, 3D printing will completely modify the existing international division of labour. The ramifications will be huge – manufacturing capacity will be rebalanced between Asia and Western countries. This will reduce logistical costs and have a considerable impact on the container shipping industry, as well as on the carbon footprint of that industry. Mass-production will also be superseded by mass-customisation.
This disruptive revolution will inevitably bring major societal, policy and innovation challenges. Industrial and research policies, including in the area of IPR, patents and standards, will have to respond to a new reality. With a number of traditional jobs being rendered obsolete, education systems and labour markets will also have to respond to new needs. We will also see a demand for new materials required to print increasingly complex goods, including nanotechnologies and genetically engineered bio-materials.
This edition of CORDIS Express takes a look at the news, events and ongoing research projects related to the 3D printing revolution.