3D Printing a Big Deal Now and in the Future

    IT personnel must pay very close attention to 3D printing for two main reasons: It will change how the organization for which they work operates and how they will do their own jobs.

    The technology has been here for quite some time, but it is increasingly stunning. It continues to change and grow in capabilities. For instance, nanowerk reports on research published two weeks ago in Advanced Materials that describes 3D printing of electronics. The description suggests that the days of 3D printing of PCs, servers and other equipment are not far off:

    This hybrid method – which combines direct ink writing (DIW) with automated pick-and-place of surface mount electronic components within a single manufacturing platform – enables surface mount electrical components of arbitrary shapes and sizes to be readily integrated onto printed soft wearable circuits.

    The changes brought on by 3D printing will be great. One example, from Andy Howard, the managing director of the Automotive and Industrial Equipment Group at Accenture, suggests that 3D printing could revolutionize the spare parts business. The idea, he wrote at Automation World, is to reduce warehousing and other costs associated with low-demand spare parts. The idea is pretty obvious: Why spend the money to build and store a set number of catalytic converters for a 2015 Honda Civic if they can be 3D printed on an as-needed basis?

    Howard, who pegs 3D printing as a $17 billion industry by 2020, suggests that organizations begin thinking about where 3D printing can be useful to them. He offers five areas that companies must focus on in order to optimize their 3D printing initiatives.

    A wide variety of high-potential technologies are emerging. Observers generally see these as distinct. In reality, however, they quickly work together to create combined offerings that multiply potential benefits. The impact of new technology is not additive; it increases geometrically.

    The Conversation describes how the makers of a 3D-printed steel bridge are using robots and machine learning to build the bridge in Amsterdam. Machine learning’s role is to gather the data enabling systematic improvement in the placement of welds. Though this example is more on the engineering side, it is clear that the melding of 3D printing with other technologies will directly and indirectly affect IT departments.

    It’s nice to end a post on a high note: A little girl who was born with a malformed right hand will use a 3D-printed prosthesis to throw out the first pitch of game four of the World Series. It’s very cool:

    The field is advancing rapidly. Currently there are several remarkably dextrous robotic limbs available more-or-less off-the-shelf. Many of these are controlled using myoelectric impulses that occur in muscles.

    3D printing is becoming an accepted technology. IT departments and the organizations for which they work must keep abreast of developments and, if they deploy, make the structural changes necessary to optimize the technology.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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