Today's guest blogger is Dr. Phil Reeves, Managing Director of Econolyst Ltd., an additive manufacturing and 3D printing consultancy firm working with businesses and innovators to develop 'legile' 3D printing supply chains.
Enjoy. Sam Green.
3D Printing and the ‘Legile’ Supply Chain
The only constant I am sure of, is this accelerating rate of change (Peter Gabriel - August 2000)
We all love to speculate, to hypothesize about the future, to dream of a world where disruptive technologies change our micro and macro environment for the better. The public perception of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing (AM) is being steered squarely into this utopian dream, where local community hubs and home based technologies will one day replace all that is broken in our lives, by simply accessing a web based catalogue of legacy 3D data.
Increasing global connectivity, coupled with ever more intuitive online design tools, haptic interfaces and cloud-based image processing will also allow us all, we are told, to engage in the co-creation of new products, personalized to our own aesthetic tastes and ergonomic needs.
With so much media traction, it is difficult to imagine a future world order without 3D printing, and no doubt, it will one day in the future pass into every-day mundanity, like the mobile phone, the wireless LAN and Satellite Navigation.
However, if this is the extent of our future 3D printing dreamscape, we risk ignoring the single most important and life changing aspect of the technology, namely ‘democratization’. The most powerful single aspect of AM on society today is its ability to democratize manufacturing into the hands of the digitally creative and to stimulate mass micro-economic growth by establishing whole new supply chains, dislocated from the traditional factory. Supply chains which are both lean and agile, or 'legile'.
AM has been used by industrial designers working with digital tools as a low-risk, legile supply chain alternative for over a decade, so the principle is already well grounded. But this has largely been for the realization of products that already exist within the current retail landscape, from lampshades & furniture, to mobile phone covers and jewelry.
However, we are now at an exciting tipping point, where 3D printing is becoming an integral part of new digital creative content businesses, whose tangible product offerings can only exist because of the legile nature of the AM supply chain.
So who are these new world order innovators? New creative content companies are working on social networking platforms for children based around 3D printed content. Computer games companies, hackers and open-source activists are developing 3D printing plug-ins for Massive Multi Online Role Play Games (MMORPG) and crowd-sourced games development. Mathematicians and digital artisans are finding new ways of commercializing complex digital 3D data into tangible product offerings.
None of these business models work without the ‘legile’ capabilities of 3D printing, breaking the links of the traditional supply chain and coupling the creative mind directly with production capacity. Democratizing manufacturing..
So where will this democratization process lead? There are undoubtedly thousands of digitally creative businesses waiting to be born and waiting to take their first steps towards a 3D printed future. We could try to speculate on their products, but we will only draw a blank. Some of these applications will undoubtedly be in the developed world, but many will also be in the developing world, where current supply chains and retail models look very different.
The one thing we can be sure of is the ever accelerating rate of change, brought about by the simple concept of making products participle by particle, layer by layer.