In the not too distant future, the business of making things will require the skills, temperament and work flow of a good film crew
I love dictionaries. I like to sit and read them, immersed in the words that make up our own stories. That is how I first came across the original meaning of the word “manufacture.”
The Oxford English Dictionary, in its primary, 17th-century, definition of the word, defines it as “the action or process of making by hand.” Another definition from the 17th century reads: “Working with the hands; a manual occupation, handicraft.”
These original meanings are mainly obsolete. Since the industrial revolution, we have associated the word “manufacture” with large-scale, centralized, machine-driven making of materials and goods. In the near future, however, every one of us will have the ability to make things at home, to manufacture things again—with our hands, using mechanical power and intellectual power in new ways. Printing in 3-D is going to take manufacturing back to its roots.
I was mesmerized when I saw my first 3-D printer in action back in the 1990s. The machining processes of traditional manufacturing were subtractive—paring, chiseling, grinding and filing—but 3-D printing is additive, building layer on layer. When I came across a method, based on 3-D printing, of correcting infant cleft palate, it took my breath away. Conventional surgery is invasive and painful to the point of barbarism, but the new technique promises a way for every child to soon have the right to smile.
Applications for 3-D printing have proliferated. They include the construction of “missing” pieces in jigsaw puzzles, screws and skull fragments; manufacture of body parts (initially bones and joints but recently body organs); production of new materials and chemicals; and manufacture of containers of various sizes, even entire buildings.
Soon manufacturing will start resembling the world of cooking.