So-called 3D Printing (3DP) describes the manufacture of three dimensional objects from raw material inputs by a machine, as directed by a design program. That is without the intervention of human labour, except to set up the machine and ensure the raw material is supplied.
The term is used because the operation is similar to the type of printing with which we are familiar. To print a document (a two dimensional product) we set up a machine (printer) with paper and ink, and then send it a computer generated program (software code) based on a document we have designed on-screen. The result is a physical output produced from a design input, albeit in two dimensions. 3D Printing works on the same principle.
The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed. (William Ford Gibson)
By way of a quick introduction to this aspect of the future please view the concluding three minutes of the BBC Hard Talk interview with Ms Fu Ping via this link….
Ping Fu: 3D Printing is ‘as big as the internet’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/hardtalk/9788066.stm
In the linked article Arnold Geelhoed discusses what 3D Printing will mean for some of the industries likely to be affected. His comments should alert Credit Executives everywhere to the significant implications this disruptive technology will have for credit risk assessment.
The article is made available with the kind permission of the National Association of Credit Management (NACM), via this link: http://www.barrettwells.co.uk/3DPrintingBCJulAug13AGeelhoed.pdf
Also published on: http://www.biia.com/category/industry/3d-printing
The industries that Mr Geelhoed highlights in the article are listed below with a brief paraphrase of his comments under each heading.
Transport and Packaging: When printing (manufacturing) products at home or at a nearby specialised facility becomes commonplace, the packaging and transportation of many finished products will no longer be required. Only the bulk delivery of raw materials, such as chemicals or metals, will be required. Therefore the demand for container ships and the consumables they currently purchase (such as bunkers and marine lubricants) will shrink in future; with a resulting negative effect on ship owning companies and other related market participants.
Waste Processing and Disposal: Production of product that today is subsequently not purchased will be avoided; hence fewer wasted finished products will be produced. Used and discarded 3D printed products will be easily recycled to provide raw material for new products to be printed.
Retail and Distribution: Product designs will be produced and made available through on-line outlets such as Amazon, to be downloaded directly into a 3D printer and manufactured immediately. Therefore the wholesale distribution and retail sectors will be seriously negatively affected; a large portion will disappear.
Warehouses: The demand for warehouse space will shrink dramatically.
Manufacturing: Massive job losses will be incurred, vast quantities of machinery will be idled, and many hectares of manufacturing building and real estate will lie fallow or have to be redeployed.
Marketing and Advertising: Designers will advertise direct to the consumer via the internet.
Designers, Chemists and Nano-Technologists: Creators, innovators and engineers will be ‘the new heroes’ (as Mr Geelhoed describes) providing the designs and the materials required to make 3D Printing (local manufacturing of single items) a cost effective and practical reality for many millions of people. The branch of Nano-Technology that is referred to here is that which involves the creation of new materials by manipulating the atomic structure of existing substances, such as carbon.
Mr Geelhoed concludes: “I believe that this new technology is going to dramatically change the world in many and varied ways. It could mean a cleaner environment, due to less fuel required to transport goods …, as well as less waste from packaging. ….whole chains between manufacturer and consumer will disappear. Working in credit management will be very exciting, challenging and will require a lot of adjustment in order to monitor the new risks…”
A brief survey of other 3D Printing developments indicates that the implications are much more widespread. Other industries will be affected; employment patterns will be significantly disrupted even in the construction sector. Please view the 12 minute linked presentation to learn about machines being developed to manufacture homes in 20 hours without the need for plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, stonemasons and general low skilled laborers. 3D Printer can build a house in 20 hours: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehnzfGP6sq4
Other reports that may also be of interest include: “US space agency NASA announces it will launch a 3D Printer into space next year (in 2014) to test the feasibility of making spare parts in zero-gravity.” BBC News – Technology Report on September 30, 2013: NASA plans first 3D Printer space launch in 2014: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24329296
Bastian Schaefer: A 3D-Printed jumbo jet? (Six minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oQY0uC52jY
Those people who have not yet “embraced the exponential” will be tempted to think that the negative impact of 3D printing on the credit worthiness of whole swaths of industry and commerce is sufficiently far off in the future that it can be ignored today. That would potentially be a costly error of judgment.
Mark Stevenson in his book An Optimist’s Tour of the Future (Profile Books 2011) explains “the exponential” as the blurring of the infotech, nanotech and biotech technological research disciplines, thereby exhibiting accelerating progress as they interact such that valued developments are being attained sooner than expected.
In his referenced book Stevenson wrote: “We must understand the power of the exponential. If we don’t, progress will outrun us, and our personal decisions will be hopelessly out to step with an unfolding reality.”
When interviewed in July 2011 he added: “What I think is … important to pay attention to is how all these disciplines are blurring together sometimes creating hyper-exponential growth. If you look at progress in genome sequencing for example — itself an interplay of infotech, nanotech and biotech — it’s outstripping Moore’s Law by a factor of four.’ (Interview by R U Sirius)
Note: Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles +/- every two years
Ron Wells is a contributing editor of BIIA