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Espresso of Innovation: Warning, Contains Additives

by Simon Sievert, digital architect, Draftfcb New Zealand
Hello and welcome to this week's Espresso of Innovation; the hottest news and strongest stories from the world of creativity and technology filtered into a quick shot of inspiration. This week we update you on the Third Industrial Revolution being caused by 3D printing.
We’ve all watched the internet turn whole industries upside-down with its ability to liberate information from physical media. But the next stage of the digital revolution is fundamentally different, because this time it’s all about the things themselves. We’ve heard a lot recently about at-home 3D printing, the personalisation poster child of 2013, but it is the industrial level process (calledAdditive Manufacturing) that is creating the biggest, most fundamental changes to the way we create and consume. The technology has been used to create plastic prototypes for years, but recent advances in the scale, cost and materials available are seeing companies make the jump into manufacturing end-use products.
Beyond plastic
Printingmodel jet engines in plastic doesn’t sound revolutionary, but it takes on a whole new dimension whenGE andNASA start printing parts for the real thing.
Aerospace is also one of the early players to take advantage of the teleporter-like ability to move products instantly. Spare parts are already being 3D printed at Delta Airlines (ironically to replace parts on old aircraft that are no longer in production). Warehouses look set to shrink as 3D printing centres are planned around the world and de-centralise manufacturing.
The new aesthetic
The very nature of the process is revolutionising design itself. No longer shackled by the access limitations of moulding or machining, new hollow shapes could offer improved structural performance in “printed”concrete buildings, and fantastically intricate items likechainmailandjewellery can be created in a single process.
Where’s the money?
Additive Manufacturing has found an early foothold in the manufacturing of high value/low volume components, where economies of scale are not fundamental.Barack Obama recently named it as one of the cornerstone technologies that will help America re-establish its manufacturing industries in the face of competition from cheap-labour markets. It will also fuel the mass customisation market that has always been looking for a more cost-effective way to produce high quality one-offs.Shoes (hot on the heels of3D knitting),clothing and even replacementjoints ororgans are being custom-made to fit individual customers’ needs.
Enter the lawyers
No revolution comes without casualties however, and the technology raises IP and liability issues to a level that makes pirating music tracks pale into insignificance. Expect to see some landmark cases appear as the first products begin to hit the streets.
So, while Additive Manufacturing isn’t set to replace every aspect of production, it looks to be a serious contender for some of the highest value objects being made – and that is what makes it disruptive.
Join the revolution and try your hand at making some “thing” real