3D Printing

John M. Jordan

The use of additive manufacturing with digital control, or 3D printing, is expanding quickly. People can create little plastic objects, such as cabinet knobs and wedding cake toppers, using consumer-grade 3D printers. As firms employ the technology to manufacture prototypes, spare parts, prosthetics that are specifically tailored to the user, and other plastic or metal objects, frequently at cheaper costs and with higher efficiency than normal production, industrial uses are becoming more and more common. John Jordan provides an approachable introduction to 3D printing in this MIT Press Essential Knowledge series volume. He discusses the printing procedure, industrial and consumer markets, and upcoming applications.

Jordan describes the many phases of 3D printing, from conception to finished product, from software model to printable file to printable layer. He discusses industrial uses, mass customization (which may produce tens of millions of unique objects), additive technologies, consumer 3D printing in homes and schools, and these technologies’ other applications. Although 3D printers have not yet become the commonplace home appliance that was previously projected, Jordan shows that they are gaining ground in mass markets. He also analyzes the commercial issues that might prevent the industry from adopting 3D printing technology. He takes into account the unforeseen effects of 3D printing on employment, as businesses struggle to locate workers with specialized skill sets, on business models and supply networks, as manufacturing is decentralized, and on patent law, as robots can be trained to reproduce protected property. Jordan concludes by examining novel and developing applications, such as bioprinting, building construction, and micromachines.