In a previous post we discussed what 3D printing is and how its emergence into the world of manufacturing may possibly affect various business models. While most people agree that it will send massive waves of change through the manufacturing and industrial world it’s not entirely clear if certain sectors will remain untouched.
While 3D printing can potentially replace a lot of machinists and their machines, and even those who make the machines, a lot of work is done outside the controlled confines of a factory or shop. There are many tasks that cannot be completed in this setting and instead must be done on-site, like the construction of real estate, from something as small as a house all the way to large buildings. Sure, you can use some pre-fabricated pieces, but until the day where houses and building are completely modular, on-site work such as welding, plumbing, and electrical work will be needed.
3D printers will themselves need to be manufactured. It is plausible that eventually larger more sophisticated mother 3Dprinters with be all that is needed to replicate the individual units that make up smaller ones, but until that day arrives traditional manufacturing will be the only way to create one. There is also the need for hand-on repairs to both old and new equipment, and there are no indications that will be going away any time soon.
Overall, it is very possible that with an increase in size, speed and quality 3D printing machines will vastly change the current landscape of the manufacturing world. It is almost certainly revolutionize the industry. One thing that it cannot and will not replace however is skilled labor. In the foreseeable future they won’t be able to replace on-site labor either. They are great at producing an item in a controlled setting, but they fail to have the ability to work in tight spaces, make on-site repairs, and work with large sophisticated projects. They will be a useful tool in the future, but they are just that, a tool. Every tool needs and operator, and every tool has limits.