What are the aspects of 3D printing

3D printing: the silent revolution

The prophecy in late 2012 that 3D printing would hit the retail market like a bomb made 3D printing companies darlings of the stock market. A good two years later the disillusionment: The devices have not (yet) caught on with consumers, because for home use they produce more cranky plastic than useful results. For this, 3D printing is now beginning to triumph in the industry.

There is a whole range of additive manufacturing technologies behind the catchy term “3D printing”. Most work with devices that use CAD data to build an object layer by layer, for example from ceramic, metal or synthetic resin. The layer construction methods have two elementary advantages. First, the principle of complexity for free. While complicated shapes previously gave engineers stomach ache because their The flexible production facility is the factory of the future constructions had to be suitable for production, the complexity of the layering process does not play a role. Second, economies of scale are a thing of the past. In conventional production logic, a single item costs a fortune. A product only pays off when it can go off the production line by the thousands. 3D printing is now rewriting these rules.

From prototype to manufacturer

What sounds like magic has a long history - and there is a lot of hard work behind it. In the 1980s, the industry celebrated the new prototype: With 3D printing, ideas could be visualized easier, faster and cheaper than with Styrofoam, plywood or cast models. Today, 3D printing is the promise to replace conventional production technologies - casting, milling, grinding, turning or drilling. “The prototype is changing into a manufacturer,” says Andreas Gebhardt, professor for high-performance manufacturing technology and rapid prototyping at the Aachen University of Applied Sciences. According to Wohlers Report, the 3D printing market grew by 34.9 percent to 3.07 billion US dollars in 2013 - there has been an average growth of 27 percent over the last 26 years. The prognoses are rosy. Projections for the year 2025 come to a market potential of around 50 billion dollars. The figures relate to both industry and private use.

You print what you need yourself

In 2005 so-called fabbers appeared, expensive monsters for the hobby room. The 3D printer has now become as affordable for home use as a washing machine and is attracting hobbyists. The empowerment fans clap their hands. Your vision: independence from the corporations. Some trend researchers, above all the former Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, see the maker movement as the next industrial revolution. In the future, you will print what you need yourself; Contact lenses, dishes, shoes. To do this, you don't go to the basement, but to the maker space around the corner. With the democratization of production relations, Anderson and Co. even see the last hour for large corporations.

Frank Piller, innovation researcher at RWTH Aachen University, puts a damper on this expectation: "For 90 percent of our consumption we will continue to use mass-produced goods from large corporations." envisaged is unlikely to replace industrial mass production. Because the industry is gradually converting its workshops.

Local one-off vs. global mass production

The potential is beyond question. "3D printing could lead to de-globalization and re-regionalization," futurologist Robert Gaßner even thinks. “The pioneering area of ​​re-regionalization will be the spare parts industry.” Production, which is currently being outsourced mainly to the low-wage countries, is expected to be moving closer to the market again. Where the car part is needed, it should also be produced, possibly adapted to local conditions - printing on demand. That saves time, protects the environment and the immense transport and logistics costs would be a thing of the past. Jobs would be created in the region. "Ideally, the raw materials will then also come from the region," Gaßner imagines the future scenario. "The goods may then no longer physically go around the globe, but digitally they still do", says Andreas Gebhardt. Import bans on weapons, for example, could be circumvented with ease - provided you have access to a high-performance printer.

Once the CAD data is online, it makes the global round. That is the danger of the “Internet of Things” to which the “Internet of Ideas” has transformed. The market research institute Gartner estimates the damage caused by illegal 3D copies to be 100 billion US dollars by 2018. The scenario is reminiscent of the advent of MP3 and the consequences for the music industry. The same dilemma is now looming across the industry.

The factory of the future

However, 3D printing also has a similarly positive impact as MP3. The mass production of individual parts is already successful in individual industries. Research and industry alike can agree on a favorite story: additive manufacturing of dental crowns, because it is truly revolutionary. 150 custom-fit individual pieces can be additively manufactured per day. "Rapid technologies are of particular interest where parts with complex shapes have to be brought to market quickly, flexibly and in small numbers: in the automotive industry, aerospace, in medical technology," says Andreas Gebhardt. Thanks to the metal industry, Germany is currently in third place among the additive manufacturing countries with a share of 9.4 percent; before that come Japan and the USA. "3D printing is an application example of how physical products are linked with data streams and make production possible, at the end of which there are tons of individual items", explains Gebhardt. Machines no longer have to be costly converted, because the technical changes are made to the data record and not to the tool. The flexible production facility is the factory of the future.

The future project is traded in Germany under the catchphrase "Industry 4.0". According to the financial plan, the federal government is investing up to 200 million euros in the smart upgrade. The success story is still stalling: new control instruments for quality standards are needed, the material properties and the low flow rate are causing difficulties for the industry, and many prints also require manual post-processing. In addition, the industrial giants keep a low profile with their developments out of fear of competition. If they shared their discoveries on platforms (Thingiverse and Google 3D Warehouse) like the Maker Community, 3D printing could outgrow its infancy faster. "Then 3D printers would be ready to print the intelligent inner workings of cell phones and cars in addition to the shell," says Gebhardt.


Chris Anderson: Makers, The New Industrial Revolution, Crown Business 2012.
Matthias Baldinger: 3D printers are revolutionizing the supply chain. In: GSO network online, June 20, 2014.
Verena Gründel: How mass customization will turn production models upside down in the future. In: iBusiness, June 10, 2013.
Frank T. Piller, Christian Weller, Robin Kleer: Business Models with Additive Manufacturing - Opportunities and Challenges from the Perspective of Economics and Management, pp. 39–48. In: Business Models with Additive Manufacturing - Opportunities and Challenges from the Perspective of Economics and Management, Springer International Publishing, 2015.
Wohlers Report 2014 - 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing State of the Industry. 3Sat: How 3D printing is changing our world. Broadcast on November 14, 2013.