Stratasys announced the sale of multiple large FDM 900mc 3D printers to "an unnamed Fortune 500 company". The mysterious company will be using these high-powered devices to produce "plastic parts for end use". Evidently this form of "Direct Digital Manufacturing" is rapidly increasing for low-volume runs. According to Stratasys CEO Scott Crump:
More and more manufacturers are using additive fabrication for low-volume production,” says Stratasys CEO Scott Crump. “It’s called direct digital manufacturing — and it’s taking off faster than we thought it would. Industry observers believe this market will far surpass our current primary market of rapid prototyping and 3D printing applications. We have many competitors, but we believe we’re the best-positioned, because our FDM process produces accurate, durable thermoplastic parts.
Stratasys's press release lists the benefits of DDM:
- ROI can often be realized in a small number of projects
- Products get to market quicker
- No machining or tooling or associated costs
- No waiting for machining or tooling
- Inventory reduction: components can be made on demand
- Design can be changed during production with virtually no penalty
- Engineers can focus on creating the best design with no concern for manufacturability
What should we make of this? It brings to mind the concepts in The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen, who proposed that new technologies incrementally increase their capability until eventually they displace the old technology. Christensen's classic example from the 20th century involves the displacement of steam shovel tech with hydraulic tech. At first, the hydraulics were laughable, able only to perform very limited work. If you wanted a big hole, you got yourself a real steam shovel.
However, as years passed, the utility of hydraulic tech increased and who's seen a steam shovel lately? We're wondering if events such as this Stratasys announcement are the beginning of a long-term decline of traditional manufacturing?