On the verge of the next industrial revolution?

The possibilities offered by 3D printing are nothing short of breathtaking. It appears that the concept is a step closer to the mainstream with Amazon’s opening of a dedicated 3D printing page.

The author of the blog piece speculates that future online shopping may become downloads of digital code needed to print the products you want on your own 3D printer. In effect, this would transform e-commerce into a nearly instantaneous transaction.

I wonder about the changes in manufacturing.  3D printing could revolutionize the metals industry.

Much of what my employer sells is raw material for parts used in bigger pieces of equipment. Machine shops often create parts by machining solid pieces of metal — square, round, or flat bar. Those parts often require removing and scrapping a lot of material, not unlike whittling down a block of wood.

If 3D printers can consistently produce parts of similar quality in a similar time frame, steel mills, distributors, and machine shops are going to have to figure out how to transition to the new method of production.  And good machinists, who can already write their own ticket (at least in southern Illinois), will be even harder to find.  The machinist may become the 21st century equivalent of the blacksmith.

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