By Karl Arnold Belser
06 September 2013

I usually think of robots like those used at Tesla Motors (video) when I think of automation. However, 3D printing appears to be a transformational breakthrough that will be common in the future. The article 3D Printing Scales Up from the Economist Magazine  summarizes the state of 3D manufacturing today.

Cheap printers may not produce high quality, durable parts. However, commercial manufacturers like from Stratasys Red Eye use 3D printing to produce expensive, complicated, proprietary or military parts or expensive replacement parts for equipment that is out of production. Other manufacturers like 3D Systems are making expensive health care parts
such as hearing aids or dental devices that can also be customized to fit any individual .

In short 3D manufacturing is far from the Matter Compilers that Neal Stephenson describes in his 1995 novel The Diamond Age. In the novel matter compilers can make almost anything on demand using raw materials that come from The Feed, which is analogous to today’s electrical grid.

The practical usages of 3D printing today are making molds or  prototypes from which a mold can be made. In this way the manufacturing cost of items can be reduced. The other use is quick turn-around parts for which the purchaser will pay a premium price.

The future looks bright because laser sintering (fusion of a powder) can quickly make high-quality production parts. Further, people are working on printing electronics including transistors and piezoelectric actuators as part of the parts. Although this type of 3D printing is not realized today, it most certainly will happen in the future. This will make it possible to produce electronic devices and machines that cannot be produced by any method today.

Many jobs in the future may revolve around these production methods, which suggest that much of the highly paid future employment will be as scientists, engineers, technicians and programmers. In other words future jobs in this areal will probably require a high level of education.

Last updated September 7, 2013
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