At this point we’ve had 3D printing of plastic parts around for a while now. You can upload a file from a professional design software and watch a small plastic part get built up right before your eyes! These 3D plastic printers are starting to appear in homes and will probably eventually be as common as a microwave.
Now 3D printing is taking the next step. A consortium of companies called the AMAZE Project have started work on printing metal parts (http://www.gizmag.com/esa-amaze-project-3d-printer-iss/29447/). “Oh crap… I can’t find the screwdriver AGAIN! That’s okay, let me just print a new one…” That could be a future we are heading towards. Instead of buying things people will be buying raw materials and using 3D printers to build their own things. Customization and innovation will become accessible to the average person and instead of buying a product, you will buy the design file for a product online and then make it yourself. Everyone thinks that they can do things better and without the regulations and cost of typical companies, people will get a chance to see if that’s true. If you just can’t seem to find a pen that fits your hand right, then you could finally get a chance to make the personalized changes you want–you could design and print up a pen casing that is specific to you. There will be so much more individuality and creativity in the everyday things people use. And it will be AWESOME!
There are unlimited other industry applications for this kind of technology, but I will go with an example that is close to home. I have a little bit of experience in the plastics industry and injection molding. In this industry it literally costs pennies to make small plastic parts (depending on material and complexity). Unfortunately, because of this you can only sell the parts for so much. The biggest expense in creating plastic parts is making a metal mold that the plastic forms in and cools in. If 3D printing metal can make these molds cheaper to create then they could significantly cut the cost of injection molding and save it from its biggest competitor… Which, ironically, is 3D printed plastic parts.