There’s a good bet that by now you’ve started to wrap your brain around the, heretofore, almost otherworldly concept called additive manufacturing – commonly referred to in most lay circles as 3D printing.
In the version of that next-generation forging I’d bet is still floating around inside your head, a machine captures a digital image of an object and then adds layer after thin layer of synthetic glop onto itself until, when it’s completed, an entirely new product – and an exact replica of the original – is produced.
Well, if a team of engineers and scientists in Europe has its way, later this year that brand of 3D printing you’ve recently tried to come to grips with will prove to be just one more example of yesterday’s news. Today, your see, there is an entirely new breed of additive manufacturing being developed in the world, and even in its earliest stages (and even in its roughest form) it is, just maybe, a microcosm of the very direction manufacturing will soon be taking.
Just over a week ago in the Netherlands, the principals at a startup specializing in 3D printing announced their intention to erect an entirely functional pedestrian footbridge across a small canal in the heart of Amsterdam using only two of the most basic and fundamental building blocks of the post-modernist’s imagination; robotics and additive manufacturing.
But that’s only part what is so next-generation, so earth shaking and, ultimately, so newsworthy about this announcement. Because the bridge will be built using a process called MX3D printing (which is also the name of the company), instead of layering synthetic resin onto itself to form a replica structure, it will be built by layering thin sheets of molten metal which, when hardened, will result in a fully operational and entirely safe metal span across the water.
What’s more, the robot doing the work is being developed to craft objects from any angle, rather than simply along a horizontal plane – which is now the case. As molten metal will flow through the robot’s nozzle, it will quickly set, which will allow a robotic arm to produce straight lines, spirals or any other shape for that matter, out of thin air.
So what’s the lesson for those of us with one foot in this new world and one foot in the old? Heck, you name it.
If you’re an independent shop or factory owner, or even an executive with a larger manufacturing firm, you’d better see the writing on the wall and plan/budget accordingly.
If you’re a shop worker, or someone just entering the job market, you should read the tea leaves and realize that the next new wave of jobs will be entirely different than the jobs that exist today, and that rather than railing against robots, you might consider talking to your boss about getting trained to monitor, service and maintain them.
And finally, if you’re a designer or engineer, you might consider putting away many of your old design tools and wake up to this next generation of 3D product design, computer modeling and almost limitless possibilities.
Either way, my friends, whether we choose to get on board or not, the world many of us grew up in, and the one we have always known, continues to change at a staggering rate.
And like it or not, the next move is ours.