3-D printers and additive manufacturing: A disruptive future
Disruptive technologies are those likely to unsettle an existing market. There are two key sides to disruptive technologies: the controller and the players negatively impacted.
Obviously, it is better to be the controller or owner of a disruptive technology but when this isn’t possible, it is best to know about these technologies as far in the future as possible.
For this example, let’s examine 3-D printers because of their potential for disrupting many markets.
3-D printers function by carefully adding thin layers of material that will ultimately result in a complete part. For this reason, 3-D printing is commonly referred to as “additive manufacturing.” Traditional manufacturing, however, often starts with a large piece of material and then reduces it down to the final size (subtractive manufacturing).
3-D printers are poised to disrupt many manufacturing segments, but not all of them.
Here are a few technologies where 3-D printing has the potential to disrupt a market:
- Food – NASA has been researching the use of 3-D printers for making customized foods for astronauts, especially for long duration travel such as to Mars. 3-D food printers would be very similar to the concept of food replicators shown in the television series “Star Trek.” The benefits of this technology include customizing the nutrients on a per person basis, customized recipes (potentially downloadable from Earth!), and reducing the weight onboard the spacecraft during launch. 
- Bone surgery – Orthopedic surgeons are already starting to enjoy the benefits of printing implants and bone replacements that are custom shaped for any person’s unique anatomy.
- Soft tissue replacement – Researchers are continuing to advance on their quest to print human organs and other soft tissues.
- Textiles – Printing custom-shaped, finished clothing with no seams.
- Metals – Printing complex shapes or enclosed volumes is a huge benefit as these are often very expensive or impossible to build using traditional manufacturing methods.
- Multiple materials – Items could be produced in a printer instead of requiring multiple steps including the use of adhesives or welding.
Here is a 3-D printed rocket injector that was made in a single piece (shown before further processing)
Here is a 3-D printed dress
Are you interested in seeing the latest disruptions occurring in 3-D printing?
Printer: Eva Wolf, Airwolf 3D (Wikimedia)
Rocket Injector: NASA (Wikimedia)
Dress: EdytaZwirecka (Wikimedia)