Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Manufacturing Clouds - 3D Printing

A recent article in the technology section of the economist discussed advances in 3D printing. This technology allows users to literally print out objects of everyday use. This “additive” approach to manufacturing as opposed to the traditional approach which is “subtractive” in nature, allows for much more economy in terms of use of raw material. It is also highly custom as each print run can be unique.  The cost for each item is limited to the raw material (titanium powder, synthetic plastic, etc…) required for that build. An entire production line does not need to be designed (or modified) for each item that is built.

When I read this article, it sounded eerily familiar. Traditional IT approaches require a long lead time in terms of design, development, change management and deployment to bring a new application to life. The ultimate purpose of the application is to provide business functionality. If it were possible to build  low cost prototypes, or even better, build and retire functionality it would be equivalent to the “additive manufacturing” phenomenon in manufacturing.

Of course, in IT we have the cloud based approach to pay-per-use infrastructure (IaaS). We have pay-per-use functionality in terms of hosted applications (SaaS). We also have pay-per-use platforms for hosting complex applications (PaaS). In this context manufacturing appears to have found its own “Cloud” and the advantages stemming from this change will be nothing short of world changing.

NOTE: All credit for the opinion piece on 3D Manufacturing are given to The Economist.

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