The latest installment of the BBC World Service’s Global Business program — “New Dimensions for Manufacturing – Episode 1” — kind of blew my mind.

It’s about “3D printing,” which I had never heard of. Apparently it’s been around for 30 years, known as “rapid prototyping.” Global Business host Peter Day puts 3D printing on par with the computer and the Internet as “something that is really going to change the world.”

Rapid prototyping examples

We know how easy it is to design something in two dimensions using a computer app, and then print it out. Now think about stacking a whole series of ultra-thin layers on top of each other to “print” a three-dimensional object designed in a CAD application.

This four-year-old video, from Engineering & Manufacturing Services, Inc., demonstrates how a component part — including the ball bearings inside it — can be created by a print head fusing thin layers of powder together.

As Peter Day lays out in his BBC program (well worth a listen), all sorts of things can be manufactured this way, from building components to artificial limbs. When you think about the possibilities for customization by manipulating data in the virtual models, 3D printing becomes even more exciting.

The newer umbrella term for these miracles is “additive manufacturing,” and it’s going to dramatically change our hundred-year-old system of mass production. For example, parts that can be made to order don’t have to be stored in warehouses or shipped from the other side of the globe.

This second clip is clip from a show called Known Universe on the National Geographic Channel that has created a good deal of Internet buzz. In it, theoretical physicist David E. Kaplan is in search of a Star Trek-style “replicator,” and he gets a demonstration of 3D scanning and 3D printing at Z Corporation in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Some more examples of small objects made using a 3d printer are shown in this video from Print to 3D, a Pennsylvania company ready to print small parts for you, and even accepting orders of as little as $75.

Finally, this last video documents the first flight of a small drone aircraft as reported in a New Scientist article, “3D printing: The world’s first printed plane.”

Also at New Scientist is a sort of portal page about 3d printing called “3D printing: Second industrial revolution is under way.”

Wow. I guess so.


Global Business has since added a second episode on 3D printing:

New Dimensions for Manufacturing – Episode 2

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