Ten Principles of 3D Printing
Principle one: Manufacturing complexity is free. On a 3D printer, it costs as much to make a simple cube as it does an elaborate and complex object of the same material. This is disruptive since in traditional mass manufacturing, complex geometries (elaborate shapes) cost more to produce in terms of time and skill. Free complexity will disrupt traditional pricing models and change how we calculate the cost of manufacturing things.
Principle two: Variety is free.
Like a human artisan, a single 3D printer can fabricate many different shapes. The intelligence lies in the computer, not in a machinist who must re-tool the way the machine is set up. Free variety reduces the cost of customization and gives a single entrepreneur the ability to create many different types of 3D printed products on a single printer.
Principle three: No assembly required. A 3D printer can print a hinge, a bicycle chain or even a nested set of Russian Dolls in a single "print job," no assembly required. Traditional manufacturing machines make parts which must be assembled. The more parts a product contains, the longer it takes to put together, the longer the supply chain and the more expensive it becomes to make. Reduced part count saves on assembly, reduces inventory and shortens supply chains.
Principle four: Zero lead time. A 3D printer can print on demand, when an object is needed. Lead time, the time lapsed between a product's conception and its actual manufacture, is a core competitive differentiator. 3D printed, on-the-spot manufacturing will liberate companies from stockpiling physical inventory. Product design will accelerate; custom, on-demand products made in direct response to customer demand will become financially feasible.
Principle five: Unlimited design space. The 3D printing process, since it builds objects layer by layer, is capable of making physical shapes that were once impossible to make. It's simple to 3D print hollow objects, interlocked objects, precise and complex internal structures. With a 3D printer, we can create objects that once only nature could make, opening up vast new design possibilities.
Principle six: Zero skill manufacturing. Traditional manufacturing machines still demand that a skilled expert to adjust and calibrate them. A 3D printer gets most of its guidance from the design file. Once the design file is created, the printer can swing into action immediately. Unskilled manufacturing opens up new business models and could offer new modes of production for people in remote environments.
Principle seven: Compact, portable manufacturing. A 3D printer has a small footprint. A 3D printer is also compact, as the size of the object being printed can be nearly as large as the printer. In contrast, an injection molding machine can only make objects significantly smaller than itself. Even better, a 3D printer, if the "print head" can swing freely, can fabricate objects even larger than itself such as structures or furniture.
Principle eight: Less waste by-product. 3D printing is a precise process since objects are created in layers, not by carving away raw material or molding molten material into solid shapes. Machining metal is highly wasteful as an estimated 90 percent of the original metal gets ground off and ends up on the factory floor. Molding is a precise, low-waste manufacturing process but can only make simple shapes.
Principle nine: Infinite shades of materials. As 3D printers in the future gain the capacity to print with different types of raw materials in a single print job, we will witness the emergence of a new class of materials. Multi-material 3D printers can blend and combine different raw materials in precise blends. Digitally designed and precisely printed blends of materials will offer us a large and mostly unexplored palette of novel materials that have unusual properties or useful types of behaviors, for example wearable electronics or living tissue.
Principle ten: Precise physical replication. The 3D printing process relies on digital instructions. The ability of the 3D printer to precisely carry out digital instructions will bring the design freedom and malleability of the digital world to the physical world. Like digital music and media, physical objects will be scanned into digital form and then edited, copied or re-designed.