How 3D printing will transform mass production

Star Trek featured a glowing device called a “replicator” that can create any object out of thin air. Now, advances in 3D printing are bringing science fiction a step closer to reality.

3D Printer making a plastic bowl.

While the technology cannot yet produce anything you want on the spot, the materials that can now be printed include metals, glass, ceramics, carbon fibre and various plastics and resins.

More dramatic changes lie ahead. Several experts speculate that future consumers may enjoy easy access to high-quality 3D printing facilities that can produce a range of products from a custom-shaped bicycle seat to a replacement handle for a refrigerator.

The situation may be similar to 2D printing today, says Robin Kleer, an associate professor of innovation management at Vlerick Business School in Belgium. Printing a few pages at home is easy and affordable, but more complex products, like posters or pamphlets, require specialised shops.

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