3D printing may bring US manufacturing back home

Thanks to 3D printing technology, low-cost overseas manufacturing zones may eventually be replaced by localized, on-demand production right here on these shores.

Thanks to new technology, low-cost overseas manufacturing zones may someday be replaced by localized, on-demand production right here on these shores. Manufacturing will become incredibly cheap, with everything from human replacement organs to houses to glassware to chocolate produced via "desktop manufacturing," enabled through 3D printing. Just as significantly, 3D printing will enable co-creation with customers for highly customized products.

HP's Designjet 3D Printer. (Credit: HP)

3D printers come in all shapes and sizes, and now support a variety of raw materials.  This enables goods to be imagined and designed on a personal computer, then just as you hit "file" and "print" to print documents, you will be able to almost as easily mass produce physical objects right from a printer. This even includes items with moving parts, says Autodesk’s CTO, Jeff Kowalsky in a recent Forbes interview.

Kowalsky, whose company has been doing work in this area, suggests that that 3D printing will drop in price the same way document printing has over the past couple of decades, creating a new revolution in manufacturing -- a revolution that will return mass production back to North America:

"Manufacturing is probably going to be more localized than it has been. We won't be shipping as many raw materials around the world, producing things in lower-cost labor areas then sending it back. If manufacturing the actual production of something is effectively free, and more importantly, complexity is free, that can be performed locally."

Kowalsky predicts the shift toward desktop manufacturing on these shores will occur in a big way within the next five years.  "It's entirely possible that the US could see self-sufficiency and a self-sustaining future," he predicts.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com