For the last decade, 3D printing has been the playground of the maker community, while commercial applications have been limited to prototyping. But now, industrial 3D printing has reached its tipping point, and is about to go mainstream in a way that will revolutionize the economy. As costs continue to drop and quality rises, it will be impossible to put this genie back in the bottle.
Here are seven ways that 3D printing production is already in use today and disrupting business as we know it:
1. True rapid prototyping. Recent breakthroughs in automation coupled with the entry of global distribution companies like UPS have changed everything, in some cases leading to same-day production and shipping, and these changes are dramatically collapsing design cycles.
2. Rapid design iteration (A/B testing of physical products). No longer bound by the constraints of traditional industrial processes, engineers can explore dozens of variations and rigorously test them all.
3. Low volume production. If creating a mold costs $50,000 and each incremental part costs $.50, then the very first part will cost $50,000.50! Today, for production runs of less than 1,000 items, most companies will consider 3D production as a cost-effective alternative.