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The Economist -February 12th-18th 2011

Last week when I saw cover page article on 3D printer, first thing came to mind was “Wow! It happened so quickly.”  I remember reading about it sometime in 2008 – I guess it was an article in “Technology review Magazine”- and thought it would be fascinating. When I further exploration about it revealed that 3D printers are really quite mature now. They are available in various sizes -portable to large industry grade – and price. Now supported materials on these printers are ranging from transparent glass like materials for lampshades to hard material for skate boards. Some of them even have options for choosing your own color shades for final products. It’s really amazing to see shrinking of whole cycle of bringing innovation from research to the market.

Desktop Factory 3D printer

I can recall my recent Microeconomics lesson, where we learned about economies of scale with nicely illustrated examples of manufacturing industry. We learned how high fixed cost plays a critical role in standardizing products and benefiting a firm via economy of scale. But it appears that very soon these new 3D printers would be breaking old school concepts for economy of scale in manufacturing, probably micro-economists would be searching for other examples to explain economy of scale in classroom. Soon we might be seeing new manufacturing firms popping up with very little fixed cost investment. Plants can be quickly re-tooled to adopt for design changes in product. People would be recreating and enhancing designs via collaboration over internet – it could be similar to open source software today. Someone might be thinking about writing a book with title “Manufacturing at the speed of thought”. Getting a custom product like a custom pair of shoe – which perfectly fit to your feet- or a perfect lamp shade – which my wife always wanted – would be easier than ever. These machines can continue to produce variety of product under single roof 24/7 with very little manual labor cost and negligible material waste.

We definitely entering in new exciting era of manufacturing, where product design and continuous innovation would be critical to firm’s success. Entry barrier would be lower than before.

Anyone could just click-to-manufacture…… OOPs “click” is old school now. Anyone can just touch-to-manufacture.

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