Many have understood the excitement of 3D printing. But “additive” 3D printing is just one of several digital manufacturing technologies built on this design-to-production continuum. Others include “subtractive” technologies such as CNC-machining, plasma cutting, and laser-cutting, as well as robotic assembly. They are all closely related.
The empowering essence of all digital fab is production with extreme precision, high complexity, high fidelity, high quality, and repeatability. These are the consequence of digital control of the motion. Importantly, it all leads to one important result: for digital fabrication, complexity and precision are a feature of the system; complexity and precision come with little or no added cost.
Sounds simple. But the effect is powerful. It is just as easy for a programmed, digitally controlled tool to cut a complex curve as it is for it to cut a straight line, just as easy to machine an intricate joint as drill a simple hole, or just as easy to build a shape with embedded components as to cast individual components and assemble them. The ability to produce features that once required capital-intense specialized equipment, expensive labor, challenging assembly, or extensive time and effort — now comes virtually free.
Digital production methods and materials will continue to rapidly evolve and are likely to integrate multiple strategies and scales, as well as leverage synergies with new developments we have yet to imagine. Complexity comes free, and employing it affords new ways to manufacture, new ways to assemble, new usages, and new processes that would not have been previously possible.
The competitive advantage of pairing the energy and agility of small manufacturers with the complexity comes free principle inherent in digital fabrication could now give us the new industrial revolution.