Book of the Week: 3D Printing
This week’s selection is “3D Printing” by John Jordan.
This book is a fly-pass of the current state of 3D printing, unlike many other recent books that focus on specific aspects of 3D printing. Author John Jordan is Clinical Professor of Supply Chain and Information Systems in Smeal College of Business at Penn State University, so he is in an excellent position to provide analyses of the industry.
The book is also published by MIT press, in their “Essential Knowledge” series. MIT, if you don't know, has long been one of the scientific pioneers of 3D printing, having invented a number of different processes, and spurred many successful spinoffs in the space, such as Formlabs and others.
As you might expect in a fly-pass report, the contents of this book are general. Jordan begins with a deep understanding of the digital manufacturing process, which is quite different from traditional manufacturing. In digital manufacturing a 3D model it is prepared separately from the making equipment, and only later it Is submitted to a computer controlled machine, like a 3D printer, for production.
Jordan provides a “once over” of the state of currently known 3D printing processes, and explores much of the terminology of this highly technical space.
Some of the history of 3D printing is explored, as prior events have significantly influenced the progress of the technology, leading to the world we see today. Some early explorations in the space, such as MIT's fablab project, revealed fundamental truths about 3D printing that have persisted to this day.
Jordan spends considerable time exploring the two major dimensions of 3D printing: consumer and industrial use. The highly touted consumer 3D printing boom didn't really take place in spite of the incredible hype of five years ago. Jordan explores in some detail the reasons why this was the case, but at the same time presents reasons why some consumers could still gain benefit from 3D printing.
On the other hand, the industrial market has been booming of late in 3D printing. Several industries have “discovered” 3D printing, and Jordan explains specifically how they can leverage its capabilities to provide revolutionary new product development strategies. Jordan uses a number of case studies to illustrate how this has taken place.
One aspect I'm quite impressed with is Jordan’s knowledge of the behind-the-scenes activity in the space. For example he explains recent developments in metal 3D printing, where GE scooped up multiple 3D printing companies to quickly establish a significant presence in the space.
It's because of data like these that I recommend this book over many other introductory books that tended to focus on the technology, and not enough on the history or current events that are driving activity.