Disruptive technology poised to transform manufacturing

“3D printing – a technology that builds products layer by layer rather than milling or forming them from metal or plastic – is beginning to earn its place in everyday use at some of the world’s largest manufacturers. As the technology becomes more powerful and less expensive, the potential to locate small factories everywhere for everything from automobiles to fashion, even for a market of one, becomes a distinct possibility.”

Two important milestones in the long march toward a three- dimensional printing revolution were achieved in late 2012 with little or no fanfare. First, General Electric announced that it had purchased a small precision-engineering firm called Morris Technologies, based near Cincinnati, Ohio (USA), and planned to use the company’s 3D printing machines to make parts for jet engines. Then The Economist disclosed that researchers at EADS, the European aerospace group best known for building Airbus aircraft, were using 3D printers to make a titanium landing-gear bracket and planned to “print” the entire wing of an airliner. Both companies cited the fact that it is far more economical to build titanium parts one layer at a time than to carve them out of a solid block of the expensive metal, generating significant waste material.

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