We are on the brink of the next Industrial Revolution. An Industrial Revolution marks an evolution in the way that we manufacture goods. 3D printing will alter our perspective of a fundamental aspect of production: the Iron Triangle.
The Iron Triangle theory states that you must choose between only two of the following three elements:
Simply, if you want something quick and of high quality, it will be costly; if you want something made cheaply and of high quality it will take time; and if you want something quick and at low cost, it will not be of high quality. According to this law, you must always compromise on at least one of the elements.
3D printing has the ability to challenge the definiteness of this law because when an item is produced in a 3D printer, the time to build and obtain a good is hugely reduced. Further, quality remains consistent, and typically more precise than what a human would build unaided. And, like many emerging technologies, the cost is decreasing year over year.
Our goal at Print The Future is to enable anyone to 3D print their ideas on demand – we are planning to open 200 3D printing stores worldwide to achieve this. This will not only enable anyone to think up an idea and walk out of the store with it, but also return the item to the store to be provided with recycling credits to enable them to print something else, eliminating waste.
This marks the beginning of the third Industrial Revolution; it will change how we make, move, dispose of and design goods. Previous Industrial Revolutions marked the transition from production of individual goods by hand to factory production and then to machine manufacturing. Now, we will make the move to automated and additive manufacturing: reducing waste and better-utilizing resources – including human resources.
Before the first Industrial Revolution, societies were largely rural and most people simply produced their own, custom goods at home. For example, a rocking chair would be carved for one person, and it could be passed down and last for generations. However, its construction was typically time-consuming and difficult. Production of goods that one is not specialized to produce is not efficient.
The first Industrial Revolution disrupted this made-to-order mindset and was based around the development of machines and assembly lines. Specialized labor was deployed to produce things more quickly and at a lower cost. However, factory life was not easy and many members of the lower class were forced to labor in unsafe conditions.
The second Industrial Revolution saw a transformation in many of the materials that were used to fabricate goods. Natural and synthetic materials, lighter metals, new alloys, plastics, as well as new energy sources all made a huge impact. This period also saw the emergence of technology that would enable the automatic factory.
The steam engine was also introduced, enabling faster and cheaper transportation methods. Because of these changes, goods could now be produced more cheaply on a mass scale and transported to various locations. While this improved the quality of life for the upper class, it still often resulted in grim and difficult working conditions for the working classes. Ironically, the energy and materials saved during mass-manufacturing are likely to have been outweighed by the expense and time needed to transport goods, especially if transit were to be interrupted.
Since this time, manufacturing technology has continued to advance, improving working conditions and eliminating many of the menial and more dangerous aspects of production. However, the logistical aspects of producing goods in one place and moving them to another have remained – despite improving in efficiency and speed.
As far as the iron triangle goes – we would say that modern factory production is able to adhere to two of the three iron triangle traits – either your product can be produced quickly and cheaply, or cheaply and of higher quality with a longer wait time. For example, when one contrasts the production of an iPhone in China, which is relatively low-cost and of high quality, it must then be shipped all around the world. Local factories where I live in North America will tend to produce higher cost items, even though I may be able to obtain them more quickly and expect high quality.
3D printing is set to disrupt this $12T manufacturing industry and be a key driver of the third Industrial Revolution, enabling us to escape the logistical and material constraints of previous generations and perhaps escape the rigidity of the constraints of the iron triangle.
With 3D printing, we can enable goods to be produced locally, with sustainable materials. And when an item, made with recyclable materials, has run its course or outlived its usefulness, it can be turned back into its components and used to create something new.
Furthermore, by automating a manufacturing process using a 3D Printer, we cut out the need for specialized woodworkers, metalworkers or other craftspeople. This decreases costs associated with these trades and improves both time and quality of goods as human error is reduced. Costs too can be decreased through automation and elimination of waste. We no longer need to carve away a design, we use only the materials we need in additive manufacturing.
The benefits of local production will also help to improve the speed at which we obtain goods. The resources involved in shipping goods from place to place will soon seem an impractical and wasteful method of the past. There is no longer a need for a train, truck or boat to transport the goods, and there will no longer be import duties or headaches with customs.
In previous Industrial Revolutions, mass-production was a key means to efficiency. Now it is clear that goods produced to order, designed for maximum utility – may indeed be at the heart of the third Industrial Revolution.
In the not too distant future, design will also become increasingly automated using artificial intelligence (AI). This exponential technology will lower costs even further, improving quality and even further reducing human error.
We are on the brink of a new Industrial Revolution. 3D printing will allow us to alter and perhaps escape the confines of the Iron Triangle, and change the way we think about the production of goods forever.
Outside of production, it looks like design itself might be automated in the near future, and you can learn why here.