(After a short summer break I’m now back and straight into the deep-end with a topic that I believe may be increasingly relevant; the future of environmental resources and how 3D printing plays a potential role. Thanks for reading, Sam.)
One of the points I brought up in a recent white paper was the issue of resource depletion and its effect on, not just the economy, but on the very basis of how products are designed and built.
This same white paper mentioned that we tend to take for granted that certain products will always be here. Yet at the same time we also know that not all materials will exist forever – and that this should change how we think about building and designing products.
Peak Oil – What If?
For example, if we assume, as some already do, that Peak Oil was reached in 2008 and that over the next 30 years oil production from current known fields will fall by 50% there are some very serious implications for the way we run our lives. IMF economists give consideration to a scenario where oil production declines at 3.8% annually. The most alarming aspect of this scenario is that supply reductions of just 3.8% would lead to an oil price spike of 200% immediately and 800% over 20 years.
If so, then it is a certainty that the knock-on effects will be felt in virtually every aspect of our lives, particularly in the area of food costs and the production of every-day consumable goods.
Food costs – while not a major chunk of household expenditure for those in the developed world, is nevertheless the number one expense for many in parts of Africa, Asia and South America. Consider that in Egypt for example, the average daily wage is around $2US. What happens when the price of wheat doubles for them?
More Consumer Spending Growth – Is it Feasible?
Closer to home, we’ve all seen in the current downturn, Keynesian economists calling for more ‘stimulus’ and ‘consumer spending’ – but what happens when the cost of the plastics that go into our consumer goods and packaging doubles or triples?
From the perspective of a 3D printing company there are a number of areas in which 3D printing may be able to help in the mass production of goods. Production lines are inherently inflexible, requiring a massive capital investment in machinery. Even a relatively simple process such as how a bicycle chain is manufactured involves many different machines and can be a tiring process just to watch! With traditional manufacturing methods there is little incentive or tools for enabling change, innovation, and for thinking outside of the production line ‘box’. Until now that is.
3D Printed Injection Molding for Mass Production
If it is really true that we’ve already passed Peak Oil and the cost of the plastics that go into our consumer goods will skyrocket in the coming two decades we may see high speed 3D printing combined with plastic-like photopolymers as the new cost-effective way to go for manufacturing.
In the meantime, check out the video of Material ConneXion on the Economist website – and don’t forget to look out for the 3D printed multi-material human hand in there!