3D printing is the process of creating three dimensional objects from a computer model. It is not new, in fact it can probably be traced back over decades but lower costs and better technology now mean that it is increasingly being used to produce limited manufacturing runs. As the technology y improves traditional assembly line techniques may be used less frequently - 3D printing could well rewrite the rules of manufacturing and cut out much of the retail supply chain.
Enthusiasts of the technology envisage a future where rather than buying a product from shop or having it delivered by courier from an online retailer we will simply download a design and print it off at home – move over cloud computing, you are old news, now we are talking cloud manufacturing!
If all this doesn’t sound too futuristic then what do you think about the idea of printing food? A researcher at Cornell University in America has created a machine that turns liquids called hydrocolloids into edible foods by printing them layer by layer and apparently a celebrity chef uses a version of the technique to create sushi at his Chicago restaurant. He has a machine that prints gels onto edible paper using an adapted inkjet printer! It seems we could well look forward to the day when we have a 'food printer' in the kitchen along-side the kettle and the microwave.
I have to say that there are plenty of people who think that 3D printing is mainly hype, and I have to admit that we have yet to hear of a mainstream printer manufacturer suggesting that 3D printing is on the road map. For my own part though the sentimentalist in me, that laments the loss of much of the traditional manufacturing in the UK, half hopes that there could be something in it. The UK is still at the forefront of design and R + D so if we could then sell directly to the consumer, missing out the troublesome matter that we hardly make anything anymore, we could once again be world leaders at the sharp end of a second industrial revolution….