Sometimes it’s good to get back a ways from the trees in order to see the forest. I’ve written before about 3-D but only when talking about building guns at home and how the possibility drives liberals and gun haters crazy.

But USA Today has stepped away from those trees to bring the entire forest into much clearer focus: 3-D printing is turning the world upside down. It’s free market that’s doing it. Not only is it likely to have a hand in saving our freedom, it’s certain to have an enormous impact on our overall standard of living. This is not hyperbole.

There’s an auto show being held in Atlanta this week, and Ford is going to unveil its latest hybrid automobile, with major parts of it made through printing. John Shinal explains:

Rather than using custom machine tools to build early prototypes of new parts, Ford is now using 3-D printing to design and test its engineers’ latest ideas. The new method allows product developers to have a prototype in their hands in as little as a week after they create a new design — compared with a previous wait time of three to four months.

Let’s consider that: a working prototype in as little as a week! And this is at the very edge of this coming wave of technology – it’s still in its infancy. What would that mean to developers and manufacturers? For a start, it would save enormous amounts of time. Second it would allow for modifications and refinements to take place much faster: think evolution on steroids. Thirdly, new products will enter the marketplace much faster. This will allow the marketing department to see if the design really will sell, or not. If not, they can take it off the shelf immediately. Much less wasted time, energy and money. Remember that the dark side of the market is failure. The faster companies can determine what doesn’t work or doesn’t sell, the faster they will be able to bring to market those ideas that do.

Here’s more about how it’s working for Ford:

Ford’s new hybrid transmission was developed on a 3-D printer that costs about $300,000 and which can turn a pile of aluminum powder into a working prototype in a day or two.

It’s not just for automobiles. 3-D printing is being used in consumer electronics, safety equipment and medical devices. Too esoteric for you? How about custom-made shoes and clothes for you at home? Can’t find the right size? No problem. Print it. Can’t find the right pattern? No problem. Print it at home. Want a custom shirt? No waiting. Make it at home. How is that going to impact clothing retailers? Hmm?

Need a bicycle helmet that fits perfectly? Make it at home. Does someone need a prosthesis? No problem.

Charles Sprinkle, a systems engineer for Harman America, the loudspeaker company, put what’s happening here into one sentence:

This has more than cut in half the time it takes to go from a crazy idea in someone’s head to a part that’s already in production.

Politically speaking, just how is the government going to try to regulate that? Answer: they can’t. It’s a wonderful thing to watch.


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