Several months ago I instructed the internet to tell me about anything concerning 3D printing, but I usually now file the resulting emails under: to be looked at later if at all. People saying they have worked out how to make ever more intricate and ever more tasteless and 70s-ish napkin rings no longer excite me that much. Okay, I get it. The technique works. But come on. A napkin ring? That takes four hours to get made? (That’s how long the damn video goes on for! Although I now learn from another video at the same site that the process may have got stuck after an hour. So, how long does it actually take to 3D print this napkin ring? Don’t tell me. I really do not care.)
I earlier here pondered, and quickly discarded, the idea that 3D printing would be arriving in our homes some time quite soon. What 3D printing really is is better stuff-making, by the people who already make stuff.
So it was that this link – which does not concern brightly coloured napkin rings, but on the contrary is to a story (here is the original Wired version) about an enterprise that has used 3D printing to make the body of a car – really did get my attention. This car body is just as strong as a regular steel car body but much lighter, and hence much more fuel efficient. Oh sure, it’ll still be years before most cars are made this way, but this surely is the future starting to reveal itself, to those of us beyond the circle of specialists who are already paying close attention to such developments. As was noted in one of the comments on my earlier 3D printing here (that’s the link again), car makers (Mercedes was singled out for our attention) already use 3D printing, to make small but important car parts. So it won’t be a huge leap for them to use 3D printing to make rather bigger car parts, until hey presto, they’re 3D printing entire cars!
The comments on that earlier posting were very informative. But nobody, except me in the original posting, discussed the possibility that 3D printing could shift the balance of manufacturing power somewhat back from the getting-rich world to the already-rich world. This is an idea you now hear quite a lot. Thinking about that idea some more, I think that 3D printing may be less of a macro-economic game changer that at first it looked, to me, like being. The idea, in other words, resembles the idea of a 3D printer in every home. After all, here is yet another manufacturing method, devised and developed in the richest and cleverest places, but then, surely, easily unleashable in any place, and in particular in places that are merely getting richer and getting cleverer. Does that change the game? It sounds like the game as usual to me. Which could be why nobody else thought the idea worth commenting on. But maybe I am getting that wrong.