3D printing lets anyone make just about anything from nick nacks to full-size rooms. While the novelty is certainly there, 3D printing is also a technology that’s starting to make a splash in manufacturing. Instead of having a giant factory full of specialized machines—like the injection molding machines in a LEGO factory—an army of smaller 3D printers can fabricate the same object. And because the printer is fabricating an object from scratch, it only uses exactly the amount needed to create the object. It also allows you to also design objects with a unique internal structure that’s not possible when casting or carving plastic into shape. On top of saving space and resources, switching production lines are as simple as loading up a different design onto your computer. 3D printing is also expanding to include a more robust material palette and the technology will soon be used in outer space.
On the flip side of 3D printers, which use an additive process to fabricate objects, a computer numerical control (CNC) machine works by carving shapes from a solid block. A CNC is basically a controlled mill equipped with a computer-controlled cutting bit that can slice practically any material into shape whether it be glass, wood, or even metal. The advantage here is you don’t need nearly the same amount of skills or tools and machines as a normal craftsman. So instead of using a specialized saw to cut through metal or skills with wood carving chisels, you could just load up a computer and tell the CNC machine exactly what you want made. Some people might argue you can never replace the quality of a handcrafted item; but, like 3D printers, CNC machines have become a newly commercialized technology that could make factories much smaller and efficient.