3D printing could lead to a third industrial revolution


In 2020, the 3D printing industry will have an estimated worth of 8 billion dollars. With the development of a more efficient 3D printing process, it will be possible that the production on small scale is just as efficient as large scale production. With traditional manufacturing, small scale production can be very costly because it is labour-intensive. This is due to the lack of specialized machines and moulds. With more advanced 3D printing, it will be possible that more small scale production and prototyping becomes feasible. With 3D printing, the price of production per item remains constant. Even with a high amount of units. This means that with 3D printing, economies of scale are much less important. This is due to the fact that the software can be tweaked and therefore minor adjustments can be easily made. The cost of labour will decrease because the amount of employees directly involved in producing products will decrease. Therefore, manufacturers could start to switch from mass manufacturing to individualized production in order to respond to customer demand. This means that the design process and the manufacturing process come closer together. As a result, manufacturers could start to move the offshore production (back) to the western countries. According to the Economist, this could lead to a ‘third industrial revolution’.

With 3D printing, manufacturers are able to further develop capabilities such as mass customization, on-demand production and they will be better able to support the ‘long tail’. For specialized products, such as doorknobs and spare parts, it is often not justified to mass produce them. This is due to the fact that the demand is not large enough to cover for the production, inventory and maintenance costs. 3D printing would solve this problem because it gives companies the opportunity to produce customized products from the same platform with minimal ‘retooling’ costs. There are many products that are standard and have a very low demand but that are necessary to maintain (e.g. spare parts).  3D printing solves the problem of storage costs and loss of value over time for these parts. Manufacturers could also support the ‘long tail’ better by switching from designing for complete part replacement to designing for part component replacement.

Do you believe that 3D printing could lead to a ‘third industrial revolution’?


– Chalmers, J. (2013) 3D printing: not yet a new industrial revolution, but its impact will be huge, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/11/3d-printing-not-yet-a-new-industrial-revolution-but-its-impact-will-be-huge

– Markillie, P. (2012) A third industrial revolution, http://www.economist.com/node/21552901

– Robbins, J., Webb, S. (2013) Rethinking Industrial Manufacturing Through 3D Printing, http://www.automationworld.com/rethinking-industrial-manufacturing-through-3d-printing

2 responses to “3D printing could lead to a third industrial revolution”

  1. Bozhidar Bahov, 420198 says :

    I am really attracted to 3d printing and all the possibilities it has.
    When you mention the “the long-tail” two interesting things come to my mind.

    First, it is about the HealthCare system. I’ve read somewhere that they are planning to “print” human organs for transplantation and surgeries. The idea is that they just need a little bit of DNA (e.g. saliva) and can produce specifically designed organs for the patient. Imagine all the problems this could solve. There will be no more waiting for donors or problems with the acceptance of the foreign object by the patient’s body. It will be designed personally for them and produced using their DNA. If this idea is widely accepted and implemented the health care system and more particularly donor and transplantation processes will be changed entirely.

    Another theory I’ve heard about is using 3d printers for space missions. Image if we want to build something on the moon. According to this hypothesis we just need to send there a 3d printer and a small working robot. Given the right construction and printing patterns the robot can collect materials from the surface and soil which the printer will use to create more working robots. When the robots are enough we can tell them to gather resources for the building and the printer will create the different building blocks. It’s like the game “StarCraft” in reality. We just to controll the robot and the printer. And it is already established that we can send internet to the moon.

    The possibilities of 3d printing are endless and I am sure we will some very interesting applications of them. 🙂

  2. 329275lw says :

    I really like your article! I totally agree with the possible disruptive impact of 3D printing and the positive developments that it can initiate, but I don’t think we should forget to pay attention to the eventual negative consequences of this new technology. Lyndsey Hylpin stated via TechRepublic that there is also a dark side of 3D printing and illustrated this statement with 10 examples. Written below, i summarized the negative consequences that are the most important in my opinion.

    – 3D printers are energy hogs
    3D printers consume about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding to make an item of the same weight when melting plastic with heat or lasers.

    – Unhealthy air emissions
    3D printers come with a health risk when used in the home because the emissions from desktop 3D printers are similar to burning a cigarette or cooking on a gas or electric stove.

    – Reliance on plastics
    ABS plastic filament is the most common material used in 3D printers. This in conflicting one of the biggest environmental movements in recent history: reduce reliance on plastics by using recycled materials instead.

    – National security risks
    3D printing results in an increased level of national security risks since there will be significant legal and economic implications on the business sector and 3D printers offer the ability to produce a wide range of objects that cannot be controlled yet.

    – Possibility of 3D printed drugs
    Assembling chemical compounds on a molecular level using a 3D printer is possible. In the future it will enable users to create anything from cocaine to ricin.

    – Bioprinting ethics and regulation
    Printing whole organs is still many years away, but 3D printing is growing in medicine quite rapidly. Conversations about the moral, ethical and legal issues surrounding bioprinting have already started.

    For more negative implications and more extensive explanation of the consequences of the 3D printing technology I would like to refer you to the orinigal article: http://www.techrepublic.com/article/the-dark-side-of-3d-printing-10-things-to-watch/

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