The Economic Value of 3D Printing?

cheaperflightsOn a visit to the London Science Museum, my oldest grandson explained to me how 3D printing works.  I expressed doubt about its economic value, but he pointed out this sign.  “Aha,” I said, “here is a clear-cut case of a technological change that should reduce long-run average cost (by saving on materials).”

And despite the last sentence of the picture, this saving will eventually be passed onto consumers in the form of lower ticket prices, but probably not fully in the oligopolistic aircraft manufacturing industry.


Brad M

China Comac's goal is to produce a significantly lower cost jet and is utilizing 3d printing. But manufacturing isn't the only potential savings. A large cost of aircraft sustainment is spare parts which can be costly. If these spares can be 3d printed by operators, these savings will also be passed onto travelers. Finally, 3d printing enables re-engineering opportunity where parts can be made significantly lighter (i.e. internal honeycomb structures) which makes for more fuel efficient aircraft, again, travelers will benefit. Even though the aircraft manufacturing industry is virtually a duopoly, it is intensely competitive. Fears of "winner takes all" in the multi-trillion dollar future aircraft market drives cost reductions and innovation within both companies.

Dave Franchino

Respectfully, I would contend that the economic benefits of 3D printing as a high-volume manufacturing process are almost entirely pure hype.

3D printing has had a huge DESIGN and DEVELOPMENT impact and has potential as a MANUFACTURING process in certain select applications and niche markets but the breadth of its applicability is being wildly over-stated. I addressed this in a recent article on PlasticsToday.

I would welcome contrarian views - perhaps I'm missing something. 3D printing is a very powerful tool but the hype surrounding it is sadly misinformed which I fear will lead to poor decisions.

Dave Franchino @davefranchino

Oliver H

You are missing that 3D printing for metals is already here
and that it's not necessary to pay thousands of bucks for an ABS printer - there are some available for 800 Euros.
You are also missing that in some cities, 3d-printing is available as a service - drop off your file or have it made on location, and come back the next day to get your printed item.
Want to do home improvement or a bit of handicraft work? Make an old chest look like new? Today, you'd have to go to a home improvement store and buy a set of matching fittings to replace them all even if just one is beyond use to ensure they all look alike. Eventually, you can bring the data on the good ones, or have them scanned on location, and get just the spare piece you need. More: If you want to buy a full set, you are not limited to the designs they have on stock.

That "long way to go" can be covered quite rapidly once the right business models are in place to create the demand.



Not just lost Tupperware lids...

More readily available replacement parts in general. Remember that favorite thing that a functional part broke on and you had to throw the whole thing out, because there was no source for replacement parts?

A few years ago i purchased a repossessed condo and yes the evicted owners did things. They stole the silverware basket in the dishwasher. Did you know those are not standard? I had to find one that would fit even though it was for another model.

There was an also odd sized sliding screen on the french door. I tried a universal replacement that adjusted. No such luck. Never did replace that and a couple hundred unit owners in the same complex were in the same position on that.

We have a 10 year old refrigerator that still works except there are a slew of plastic parts that are held on by duct tape. Would it be easier if we could fabricate a duplicate of the original part, even if it cost more than the duct tape.