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The Future Of Manufacturing: What's Next?

By Allen Foster

The future is now.

Those words aren't some gimmicky catch phrase; they accurately describe how progress works. Technology advances faster than our capacity to assimilate it into our lives in meaningful and beneficial ways. In other words, we already have the ability to do the unimaginable—the tools are in our hands, we're just not quite sure how to use them yet.

Currently, there is no better example of the future being "now" than with 3-D printing. Even though Charles Hull received a patent for his stereolithography apparatus (SLA) — a device that converted liquid plastics into solids — back in 1986, the thought of printing out parts to your automobile still sounds a lot like science fiction. We've had over 30 years to grapple with this amazing technology and it still seems so very far-fetched!

But the future has grown weary of waiting. 3-D printing is here. And not only is it here to stay, but it's also going to change the world of manufacturing in ways we can't even begin to comprehend.

Why Now?

Because we are at the tipping point. Consider the wireless phone: Not too long ago, it was a status symbol. Now it's absolutely shocking when we meet someone who doesn't own a smartphone. From a coveted luxury item of a privileged few to a device for the masses, the transition happened in the blink of a timeline eye. 3-D printing is already accessible to even the smallest of businesses; the manufacturing revolution has begun.

What's Next?

Look for your mind to be blown as the array of printable materials continues to expand. We are no longer limited—the technology now includes utilizing powder, filament, pellets, granules, resin and more. Besides plastic, you can print metal, ceramic, paper and food. Yes, food. Imagine downloading your favorite recipe from a friend's Facebook wall... and printing out your meal immediately! There's even extensive research being done in printing living tissue. Kidney misbehaving? Why not just print out a new one and pop it in?

What Does This Mean?

No more factories; no more waste. Eventually, every item you need or desire will be created specifically for you on demand. Manufacturing will no longer be a one-size-fits-all prospect. Instead, it will be a unique experience for every person. Imagine designing the automobile you want from scratch and having it be the only one in existence. Furthermore, you can have a file with all your parts. If any part starts to wear, just print out another one and you are as good as new.

What's Coming?

At some point, the entirety of manufacturing will consist of only two elements: Design and print. The demand for certified designers will rapidly grow to supersede nearly every other occupational need we have in our world. You will hire experts in specific design fields to create exactly what you desire rather than going shopping. And while every home may indeed soon have a 3-D printer, chances are there will be 3-D printing facilities popping up everywhere, and that's where you will go to get things made.

The world is about to change. Be ready or be left behind. The future is now.

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