Guest Commentary by Tim Weber, Global Head of 3D Metals, HP Inc.
Throughout history, mankind has harnessed the unique power of metals to invent tools, build awe-inspiring structures, aid in medical care, pioneer both earthbound and planetary transportation, and enable great innovations that have profoundly advanced humanity. As a physical element, a symbol of strength, and an endless source of fascination for people everywhere, metal has shaped industries and civilizations, and become an essential part of our everyday lives.
And now the latest chapter in this heritage of disruption, metal 3D printing, is changing the way the world designs and produces everything, which is particularly exciting to consider as we celebrate the state of modern manufacturing on Manufacturing Day.
Historians have defined eras of human evolution based on the metals that allowed their societies to advance, like the Bronze Age and Iron Age: historic epochs driven by metals that have made the Information Age of today possible.
Metals were the catapult for advancement in the Middle Ages, when people counted on metal tools for everything from cooking to making horseshoes, and knights and soldiers relied on well-crafted metal weapons and armor in their conquests. As a result, the blacksmith became indispensable, turning basic materials into the things people needed to survive and thrive.
The single most important development of the 19th century was the large-scale production of steel. Steel drove the Industrial Revolution by enabling the production of tools and parts that were stronger, cheaper and more durable than iron, sparking a manufacturing revolution of mass-produced machines, motors, railroads, cars, ships, bridges, appliances and more that were previously impossible.
Today, metal is again the primary catalyst for a massive global shift, accelerating a new Industrial Revolution that’s being driven by advanced 3D printing technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Like steel’s displacement of iron as the backbone of the modern industrial world, 3D printing is in the early days of an analog-to-digital transformation of the $12 trillion global manufacturing industry that is taking the belching smokestacks of the past and replacing them with disruptive new technology that makes large-scale production faster, cheaper, better, and more environmentally sustainable.
For years, 3D printing was hampered as a mainstream production method by high costs, low speeds, and limited applications. But now, 3D printing has broken those economic and technological barriers to become a viable large-scale manufacturing solution, first with plastics, and now with metals.
3D metals take all the advantages of 3D printing — time/cost savings, digital design freedom, flexible manufacturing, localized production, and greater sustainability — and bring them to an even larger arena: the mass-production of metal parts, a trillion-dollar global market that encompasses major industries like automotive, medical, and heavy machinery, as well as the myriad others that they touch.
Whether it’s helping to accelerate the electrification of the $2 trillion global auto market, the production of complex parts for industrial equipment, or the creation of new surgical tools that improve the quality of life for billions of people around the world, there’s no question that the disruptive promise of metals 3D printing is massive, it’s simply a matter of just how massive.
The World Economic Forum estimates the value of cross-industry digital transformation driven by advanced new technologies like metal 3D printing to be as much as $100 trillion to business and society worldwide in the next 10 years alone!
What has been true throughout history is no less so in 2018: metal allows us to transform and advance our industries, our lives, and our world like no other material. And with the dawning of large-scale 3D manufacturing, metal’s most revolutionary days are still ahead, with metal 3D printing as the digital blast furnace of the new industrial revolution.
Dr. Tim Weber is Global Head of 3D Metals for HP, responsible for leading HP’s metals 3D printing commercial business and technology