3D Printing of the Future

Copyright Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

3-D Printing of the Future

Jack Shaw’s job for the past 30 years has been to help businesses prepare for the next big thing -- from the rise of the Internet in the '90s to the potential of smart machines in the next decade. He translates the "unfathomable science fiction" of the future into practical applications businesses can put to work today.

So when he kicked off the Cleveland edition of the Stratasys 3-D Printing Roadshow last month, the eager crowd of manufacturers in attendance naturally expected a healthy shot of 3-D printing futurism.

Instead, he opened with an archived photo of an ancient ocean liner and a story detailing the downfall of innovative laggards.

The point here, Shaw said, is simple: "Being unduly, cautiously conservative is a very high-risk course to take. If you want to minimize your risk and survive the next round of technological disruption, that means you've got to start taking some chances."

Fast-forward to today, Shaw says, and manufacturers are on the cusp of another technological disruption that carries equal power -- one, he argues, that will sink innovative laggards the same way PanAm's Boeing 707 sunk the ocean liners: 3-D printing.

To prove the point, he offered a scattershot of predictions of how 3-D printing could change the manufacturing business. He sees a future of shortened supply chains, inventory-less retailers, displaced CNCs and lights-out, autonomous factories capable of producing any part anywhere it's needed.

It's a future, he says, filled with potential that is still far beyond the capabilities of today's technologies. But that doesn't mean manufacturers can afford to wait.

"You've got to prepare for this coming wave," he said. "A key part of your planning process has got to be taking a shot at doing something different."

More on 3-D printing on IndustryWeek.

IndustryWeek is an MHL companion site within Penton’s Manufacturing & Supply Chain Group. 

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