Saturday, October 19, 2013

3D Printing: The End of China’s Manufacturing Edge?

Mars probe component made by 3D printing
That grim phalanx of leaders of the Chinese Communist Party must be poring over research papers prepared for them, wondering how soon 3D printing descends upon the manufacturing powerhouses of the world, and wipes out their low-cost advantages.

Take this article about one use of 3D printing, a result of the AMAZE cooperation:

Using traditional techniques to fashion metal objects often wastes precious raw material.

Whereas additive manufacturing - building parts up layer-on-layer from 3D digital data - has the potential to produce almost "zero waste".

"To produce one kilo of metal, you use one kilo of metal - not 20 kilos," says Esa's Franco Ongaro.

"We need to clean up our act - the space industry needs to be more green. And this technique will help us."

Printing objects as a single piece - without welding or bolting - can make them both stronger and lighter.

A weight reduction of even 1kg for a long-range aircraft will save hundreds of thousands of dollars over its lifespan.

What can be done with metals can be done with plastics. Soon, manufacturing using other materials will also benefit from 3D printing.

So, where is the threat coming from to China’s economy?

Consider this: imagine a world where we can download the specs needed to use our low-cost 3D printers to make our own plates, cups, toys, bicycles, tools, knives, forks, chairs, tables, and other things, with an almost zero waste, in our own homes.

No need to ship or fly  these products from currently low-cost China to our own countries. No need for developing countries to import these products from developed countries: they can make them at home.

Cheaply and efficiently.  All they need is the software, the 3D printers, and the raw stock (plastics, metals) used to manufacture the products.

Now  consider that there are more than a billion Chinese workers employed in factories all over China, making these products today.

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