This 3D printing technology is a small evolutionary step from spraying toner on paper to putting down layers of something more substantial (such as plastic resin) until the layers add up to an object. And yet, by enabling a machine to produce objects of any shape, on the spot and as needed, 3-D printing really is ushering in a new era.
The Chinese private firm, WinSun, has boasted that they can produce 10 full-sized homes in just 24 hours. They have been using four giant 3D printers to spray a mixture of cement and construction waste to build the walls and floors, layer by layer, quickly and more efficiently than any typical manual laborer. The homes can also be produced under $5,000 due to the printing process.
This new technology does have its critics though, and they fear that as this technology advances. The construction industries that rely solely on manual laborers to get their construction contracts completed may be affected in an adverse way.
For instance, WinSun, as I mentioned, is boasting that they can print buildings to any digital design their customers bring them. The buildings can be manufactured fast and much more cheaply than manual laborers can produce. In the near future skyscrapers may be built using the same process and as this technology becomes more readily available many construction workers may find themselves out of jobs.
The 3D printing methods are also being used in much more creative ways. In America, for instance, a company used the process to print a handgun. Other manufactures and designers have used 3D printers to make jewelry, furniture, specialized machine tools, and industrial components.
It has been said that the Chinese government interventions have been pro-producer at every turn, favoring the growth of their country’s manufacturers over the purchasing power and living standards of its consumers. But as 3D printing advances and products become cheaper to produce the consumers in China will greatly benefit from the cheaply manufactured goods. They certainly won’t be a loser in the new era; China will always have its domestic market and its domestic market is huge.
Not all products lend themselves to 3-D printing though so the Chinese will not have to immediately give up on being the mass-manufacturing powerhouse of the world. But, eventually, as 3D printing takes hold globally, the factories that have made China the workshop of the world will lose much of their force. Goods will be infinitely more customized, because altering them won’t require retooling; only tweaking the instructions in the software. Creativity in meeting individuals’ needs will come to the fore as well.
This will force many Chinese manufactures to focus more on their localized consumers and making products, specifically, to fulfill individualized consumer needs. As applications of the technology expand and prices drop, goods will be manufactured at or close to their point of purchase or consumption. This will have wide ranging effects throughout the world.
The overall impact 3D printing will have on the future of manufacturing in China and abroad will certainly be revealed in the very near future.
- Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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