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Will 3D printing be used in mass production? Or is the range of useful materials too restrictive?

This is a question rather than an idea but will 3D printing change the landscape of mass production processes? I understand that 3D printing is great for fabricating prototypes and manufacturing individual and small lots but will we see mass production processes adopting 3D printing?

  • May 31 2013: Let me just answer in a simple paragraph as follows:
    If you classify any assembly line type of manufacturing as mass production.whether the products are small or large, then many of the manufacturers are already using the 3D printing, or can easily adopt the 3D printing in making the parts for assembling into their final product. For example, the computer chips can be easily made by 3D printing, if only needs a little adjustment. Many components in the making of automobiles or airplanes can be made in separate factory floors/ rooms, then all of them be transported on conveyers into final assembly. So the mass production of computer chips, storage chips, etc. certainly qualify. Cars and airplanes production may take more time or "stages", but most of us would classify them as mass production as well.
    So it depends on how you define various manufacturing to be mass production, but remember, we can say that 3D production certainly can reach every type of mass production that we know of. 3D printing can make all kinds of nails, screws, knobs, etc. and put them in to the assembled units "right on spot". It can also make THE SUBSTITUTING PARTS IN PLACE OF NAILS, SCREWS AND KNOBS ETC. For instance a knob made of plastics is to be attached to one end of a screw or simply a metal rod. But in 3D printing it could be fused onto the rod/screw because there is no need to separate the knob from the rod after all parts are assembled into the mass production.
    So it seems to me that your last sentence in you statement is a contradiction to the usefulness of the 3D printing.
  • May 31 2013: Thanks George. 3D feels like evolution rather than revolution.
  • May 31 2013: That depends on the kind of product you want to manufacture, the height of the desired object is a key factor that has a direct impact on time of production, the taller the object the more time it will take to produce, so there is a limit in which using a 3D printer is no longer practical, on the other hand as you rightly point out the range of materials you can use currently is too limited. This factors restrict the range of products that can be made massively in a cost effective way.
  • May 31 2013: Bart - Thanks for this. When you say that many of the manufacturers are already using 3D printing, is this a global statement or is there a particuarly geography that has more practively adopted 3D printing into its processes? I'm trying to gauge just how mature the adoption of 3D printing is the global manufacturing landscape.