3D printing hit the cover of The Economist last month.  It is now “officially” having a major impact on business and, as of result, on the required analytics and underlying data warehouse structures to support the analytics

3D printing has come a long way from the initial prototype creations out of wood blocks.  It is now manufacturing, not prototyping, titanium landing-gear brackets to be used in modern airplanes.  The list is endless:  “medical implants, jewellery, football boots designed for individual feet, lampshades, racing-car parts, solid-state batteries and customized mobile phones.”  How about a grandfather clock?

In addition to pre-designed parts and pieces, with a somewhat stable product structure, we now have products designed on-the-fly.  The offering of products that the customer designs on a one-off basis is known as “mass customization.”  This type of offering approaches one unique product per sale:  “Shapeways prints more than 10,000 unique products every month from materials that range from stainless steel to glass, plastics and sandstone.”

And what about products designed on-the-fly by automation?  One example is robot servo mechanisms:  “Mr. Schmitt (MIT) says it should be possible for a robot builder to specify what a servo needs to do, rather than how it needs to be made, and send that information to a 3D printer, and for the machine’s software to know how to produce is at a low cost.”  Next step, of course, is for the robot builder to crank out some tweaks under the covers to the robot’s controlling software to create an independently thinking robot: The Rise of the Machines.

Instead of a pretty stable product list, we can now have potentially a new valid product with every sale.  How’s that data model and data integration design doing lately? 

This is the new industrial revolution.  Time to get ready.

12 May 2011

Yes, I think the graphic arts world will be dominated with 3D designs sometime soon.

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