3D Printers, Disruptive Manufacturing, and You

by Chris Lopez

By now, just about everyone has heard of 3D printing, most of us have experience with the technology in one form or another, and every single day we’re hearing it mentioned in the news. An eagle gets a new beak, a rocket gets a new injector nozzle, and even 3D printed space pizzas? The technology has been around for nearly 30 years in its modern form, but only in the last few years has it become a household, colloquial term. What changed so suddenly?

Humanity is reaching a convergence of technological know-how, software robustness, and computer power per dollar; All these tools are becoming increasingly affordable. Our entry-level Mojo printer is now less than $10,000, and with it’s true plug-and-play capability, Soluble Support technology, and heated build chamber, the Mojo is at the most competitive price point for this technology we’ve seen to date.

In my travels to machine shops, a trend is starting to appear. Nearly each one of them is dabbling with 3D printing. The manufacturing guys totally get it. “How can I use this 3D printer to make this job more efficiently?”, they ask themselves as they daydream of never-before possible geometry using traditional machine tools, with previously unattainable speed.3D3“How can I use this 3D printer to make this job cheaper?” Unlike traditional manufacturing equipment, the printing process is almost entirely hands-off, not requiring highly trained employees to babysit the machine while your one and only part is gingerly crafted. 3D Printing is point-click-print, and walk away to do something else while the machine prints in the background, overnight even.

“How can I use this printer 3D printer to make this job more Kaizen?” Utilizing the 3D printer, you can take advantage of a flexible Just-in-Time production schedule, and keeping your inventory low by only printing what you need, when you need it. Take the effort out of custom fixturing and one-off parts, which used to be nightmares to produce: tying up machines that should be busy producing, tying up your setup machinist. Now, one-off production is effortless, allowing your tool and die guy to keep doing what he’s best at, rather than needing to watch plastic extrude all day.3D4

The proliferation of this technology allows you to produce objects with unique geometry in record times. The flexibility of form that these 3D printers allow opens up methods that we’ve never considered before, geometries we’ve never been able to achieve before. The bleeding edge of technology, the ability to manifest 3D CAD files into the real world. The ability to manufacture with these new technologies is changing the game of manufacturing in a disruptive way, localizing product development, speeding up time-to-market, and our printers are even American-made in Eden Prairie, Minnesota!

The dawn of 3D printers is closely tracking the dawn of the personal computer – Only recently have the best printers are small and economical enough to fit on your desktop In twenty years it’ll be difficult to imagine how we survived without 3D printers. How much have cell phones changed our world in the last twenty years? How will you keep up in a determinedly changing production environment?

Not long from now, these printers will resemble the Matter Converters in The Diamond Age. Although I doubt we’re on the cusp of a post-scarcity Star Trek society, 3D printer technology is bound to permanently change the way we make things as a society, sooner rather than later.

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