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The world is awash in difficulties and uncertainties for business these days. The U.S.-China trade war drags on, with painful tariffs taking a chunk out of profits. Brexit promises more uncertainty in all regards, not only for the U.K. but for all of its trading partners—in essence, the whole world. Iran’s shenanigans threaten yet another round of disruptions in the Middle East, so the price of oil, and transportation costs with it, could skyrocket at any moment.
One huge answer looks to be coming from the world of 3D printing, a.k.a. additive manufacturing (AM). While loads of ink have been spilled about the burgeoning revolution in how things are made thanks to this new technology (or really, sets of technologies), there’s a whole other aspect to it that’s largely been ignored. That is how it presents the possibility of shipping not parts or even finished goods across the world, but instead digital files. The results of that revolution could be even more staggering than those promised by the new production methods.
You see, with legacy manufacturing, barriers to entry are extremely high. Whether you’re talking about metal foundries or plastics injection molders or huge metal presses for stamped sheet metal, the machines and their infrastructure cost huge amounts and took up lots of space. AM turns those requirements on their head. While 3D printers aren’t cheap, they also don’t cost tens of millions—or hundreds of millions, which is the case for some legacy manufacturing systems—of dollars. The result is that we’re already seeing the rise of distributed parts and goods manufacturing—service bureaus that print what’s ordered on demand.