Much has been made of the rapid emergence of 3D printing but what is often overlooked is that 3D printing is more than a manufacturing technology, it is a software-enabled ecosystem.
In addition to printers, this ecosystem includes a number of additional elements: CAD applications for designing machinery and items, much of it available online as software as a service; scanners for bringing in whole parts quickly; and applications that allow even novices to develop custom devices. TinkerCAD is an online CAD application intended just for kids.
More important than scanners or the CAD systems, this ecosystem is tied together through online collaboration, much of which is open source. This emerging online community around 3D printing is giving this hardware technology the kind of exponential growth curve that’s more typical of a software ecosystem. Not only are people collaborating around designs, they are sharing their printers as well, rapidly expanding public access to this technology.
What does all this add up to? Huge growth. Thingiverse, the most popular online design sharing community, is seeing an exponential increase in the number of items being shared:
Not only are the number of items being shared online growing, the number of parts in each design is steadily rising as well, an indicator that design complexity is increasing as well:
The electronics industry at IBM is engaged in a major study of how 3D printing will change manufacturing. The results will be released later this year. These interim data points were developed by Econolyst, a research partner of IBM specializing in 3D printing technologies. The raw data source is Thingiverse from the Makerbot community.
Updated: Added here is the full presentation from my keynote today at the Siemens Global Innovation Summit.
It expands upon the discussion above in more detail. You can download the presentation from the slide share website (The software defined supply chain) or view it embedded here.
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