How 3-D printing is transforming the $12 trillion manufacturing industry and fueling the 4th Industrial Revolution
A French cosmetics giant uses one to create artificial skin. A Wisconsin start-up designs ceramic guides that pinpoint tumors in individual cancer patients. Workers on a remote North Sea oil rig make replacement parts on the spot rather than wait days for a ship or helicopter to arrive.
All these actions are made possible by one technology: 3-D printing. Developed in the 1980s, 3-D printers create three-dimensional objects by laying down successive layers of material, a process called additive manufacturing. The technology has evolved to work with different types of substances: plastics, metals and now biological materials.
Management consulting firm A.T. Kearney describes 3-D printing as a technology that is disrupting the $12 trillion manufacturing industry. “3-D printing, or additive manufacturing — will push the production of goods closer to the consumer, democratizing manufacturing on a global scale and allowing products to be cost-effectively customized to consumers’ needs,” said the firm in a report that described the U.S. as the world leader but with Germany, South Korea and Italy among the countries working hard to catch up.