3-D Printing

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Cody Rutledge is a law student at the University of Texas, a self-described “free-market anarchist” and at 25 years of age is considered by many to be one of the most dangerous persons in the world.

Why? Because he founded a non-profit organization that develops and distributes open-source gun designs that anyone can print, given that they have access to a 3D printer.

The arms industry and many others could face radical changes as the development of 3D printers continues. It could be the prelude to a new industrial era, as Chris Anderson argues in his most recent book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.

A 3D printer converts designs into “real” objects that can go from medical prosthesis or toys to prefabricated parts for architecture or the auto industry.

In contrast to manufacturing as we currently know, this is a faster, cheaper and more accurate process. It shortens new products´ time to market, allows the trial and error process to be friendlier, reduces wasted materials and speeds up the process of innovation.

It is estimated that 3D printing will reduce labor costs. Economies of scale as well as the use of moulds will be a thing of the past, at least on moderate production volumes.

Few industries will remain unscathed from the emergence of this new technology. For instance, one of the biggest crises in the history of toy industry came when China started to produce toys at less cost. Today, the threat might come from the consumers’ capacity to print their own toys, whose blueprints can be downloaded in several websites, free of charge and able to be modified at will.

Education will also be affected. In the not-so distant past, one could go to a stationery shop to find information, currently one looks that same information in Wikipedia and in the near future one might be able to print “bones” for an anatomy lesson. What today work as carpentry or pottery workshops might soon become manufacturing centers with everything set to start series production.

Many companies are getting prepared. The General Electrics aviation department bought a manufacturing group called Morris Technologies whose goal is 3D printing. As mentioned on the “Print me a jet engine” article published in The Economist there is a new proximity between innovation as well as manufacturing and between production and investigation and development.

In Mexico, 3D printing is beginning to be used in automobile, aerospace, dental and footwear industries. However, there has been a lack of coordinated efforts to anticipate the effects of this technological change.

In the old industrial city of Manchester – iconic landmark from the old manufactory world that Marx and Engels criticized so much – the British government is financing awards, competitions and resources for research in a better use of 3D printing. What comes next is the rebirth of Manchester as a design, research and production center with the highest possible added value.

Why not including CONACYT and several state governments along with the Ministries of Economy and Education, in an effort to push forward something similar?

3D printing can become a deadly foe or the best ally to manufacturing. The difference lies in whether companies have anticipated this change. It’s a similar case as when NAFTA came into force and Mexican companies had different degrees of preparation.

Regarding 3D printing, we need vision, coordination and somebody who dares to become a public leader – even a teacher – of this joint effort.

Verónica Baz

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