Far from spelling the end for traditional factories, it is being adopted by them and incorporated into existing processes to provide the best of both worlds. 3D-printed tools, jigs, moulds and dies allow production lines to be set up more quickly. Workers in BMW factories design and print custom tools to make it easier to hold and position parts. Printed parts are used to make specialist pharmaceutical and papermaking equipment. Cockpit and cooling-duct parts for aircraft, and panels and components for specialist cars, are 3D-printed and then combined with other parts. 3D printing is as much a complement as a competitor to mass production.
This is an interesting, but recurring argument pattern about how a new technology is not believed to have an impact on existing structures, but instead strengthening them. In short term i this might be true for all technologies, but in the longer term it is much more uncertain. In the longer perspectives when new institutions will be formed on the basis of the new technology, the old models, methods and technologies will be compared and evaluated against the new. It is first at this stage the real consequences are starting to emerge.
For many years we believed that the main purpose of computers was to make institutions more efficient. Some do even today, in spite of that no have been able to show any of this gain in the bottom line. What the more perceptive have come to realize is that what computers do is step by step transform the foundations of human society and is even in the longer terms heading for core parts of the whole biosphere and life itself. This is the main transforming effect of the computer.
There will be many arguments both pro and against the transformative power of 3D printing as well. But to understand something important about the future we have to think about how we might create value when we in 10+ years time is starting the new organizations that aims to provide e g food, mobility or clothing for the masses. How will they be organized? Will they be built around large distribution chains which ships raw material, parts and products across the globe and sell mass produced products through retail stores in shopping malls or commercial city cores?
I find Paul’s response much more compelling than the article. The same was true of the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment— it took decades for the fundamental implications to play out. Which looked nothing like anyone would have anticipated in 1820. Which is about where we are right now.