Beedie hosts event on 3D printingDec 16, 2016
3D printing arrived in the public consciousness in a blaze of media attention around 2012, with stories focusing on sensational aspects, such as the perceived danger of 3D printed guns or the opportunity to print your own Stradivarius violin. A Financial Times article from the time claimed it would be “bigger than the internet”, and President Obama even referred to 3D printing in his 2013 State of the Union Address, saying it had “the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”
Behind the hype, however, the technology (also known as additive manufacturing in industrial circles) has a longer and far more interesting story – and offers exciting new opportunities for entrepreneurs. This was the subject of Manufacturing the Future through 3D Printing, a presentation given by Simon Ford, Beedie Family visiting Fellow and a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge, on December 13, 2016.
Ford examined 3D printing technology’s evolution from its emergence in the 1980s, its increasing sophistication, with the introduction of new methodologies and materials, and its growing acceptance in real-world applications and consumer-facing products. With GE now using additive manufacturing to create safety-critical parts used in jet engines that outperform what was possible with established processes, the technology has now firmly entered the mainstream. As Ford notes, “This is not just a toy.”
At this stage it remains relatively niche in comparison with more established manufacturing processes. “This is not the world of mass production yet; these are lead users with very specific requirements who are willing to make large investments in R&D to see these benefits,” says Ford. However, 3D printing’s potential is clear, offering benefits in applications across a wide range of industries. “It’s about design freedoms,” says Ford. “The novel shapes and forms that are able to be produced using 3D printing, that you just can’t make using existing subtractive or transformative methods.”
There are challenges to overcome, such as the cost and speed of production, but these benefits, as well as the possibility of customization, improved sustainability through the reduction of material waste and the ease of sharing designs, open up exciting new markets.
Opportunities for entrepreneurs are already huge. 3D printing has democratized the design and manufacturing process and made it accessible for a far wider range of people. Using machines that are available on the high street right now, entrepreneurs can create prototypes, demonstrator models or even final products to take to market. For Ford, the key to unlocking the potential of 3D printing lies in training people to use it: “It’s all about education. We need to develop, as a society, the skills to be able to exploit this technology better.”
Watch Dr. Simon Ford’s full presentation.
Dr. Simon Ford’s blog: www.capturingthevalue.wordpress.com
The CPA Innovation Centre: http://beedie.sfu.ca/cpa-centre/
University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering: http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/research/teg/digital-fabrication/
Follow Dr. Simon Ford on Twitter @drsimonford