Hailed as the third industrial revolution, 3D printing technology can produce life-saving prosthetics, durable furnishings, and fully functional automobiles. As 3D printer costs plummet from the tens of thousands down to the mere hundreds, this once-elusive technology is poised to become as ubiquitous as the desktop printer. Read on to learn how this paradigm shift in manufacturing stands to profoundly change our world forever.
Increased accessibility to 3D printing has the potential to disrupt the way we manufacture, says Joshua Peace, an associate professor who leads a 3D printing workshop for high school teachers. As more people print their own products and society becomes more self-sufficient, the 3D printing market may ignite a ‘maker’s movement,’ wherein people consume less, opting instead to save money by designing custom solutions. A high school teacher at Peace’s workshop, for instance, printed a snow-blower replacement part that would have normally cost $200.
“It can be socially transformative,” says Chelsea Schelly, assistant professor of social sciences. She adds, however, that the paradigm shift in global manufacturing may also have negative, disruptive consequences such as putting many people out of work and threatening business for mass manufacturers. Shelly is optimistic, however, that as economies adapt with time, 3D printing will have a positive effect on society. As 3D printing becomes more commonplace, she predicts a shift away from passive consumerism and towards more active at-home manufacturing, leading to a more innovative, self-sufficient population.
The new market shift is also buoyed by the increased adoption of open-source design, where designers upload 3D printing directions to the Internet, enabling rapid adoption of new products. The growth of 3D printing could also be a boon for the environment, as homeowners create their own affordable solar panels and eco-friendly goods.