Thus, AM offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop new hardware, software, and services that either supplant existing products or introduce completely new products. For instance, entrepreneurs have started companies that develop and sell personal AM machines (www.makerbot.com), provide web portals for designers and consumers to sell and buy parts (www.shapeways.com; i.materialise.com), provide customized dental aligners (www.aligntech.com), sell unique artistic (www.bathsheba.com) and consumer products (www.freedomofcreation.com), and more.
AM enables designers and entrepreneurs to start selling products without their own brick-and-mortar infrastructure. This is a new paradigm in manufacturing. Instead of requiring investors to provide startup capital, a creative person can create and sell unique goods without ever buying a manufacturing machine or paying for the development of a mold or tool. This means that the barrier to market for entrepreneurial activity in AM is very low and the distinguishing factor between successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs may often have more to do with their ability to create marketing momentum through social media than their ability to secure venture capital or other financing. This means that entrepreneurs who are creative and understand the capabilities, benefits, and limitations of AM will have an edge over others.
AM technologies have the potential to create a new type of industrial revolution. AM is moving far beyond rapid prototyping in many industries. In the same way that the Internet has democratized the creation and distribution of information, AM has the potential to democratize the creation and distribution of physical goods. The ability to create customized, geometrically complex parts without tooling lowers the barriers for entrepreneurial activity and gives designers never-before-available opportunities for optimized design. Today AM is crossing the barrier from a specialized set of manufacturing and design tools into the regime of “personal” manufacturing. Those who are able to capitalize upon new business models involving physical goods might very well be the “Internet billionaires” of the future.
SUGGESTED SOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Gibson, I, D.W. Rosen, and B. Stucker. 2010. Additive Manufacturing Technologies: Rapid Prototyping to Direct Digital Manufacturing. New York: Springer (an engineering textbook).
Rapid Prototyping Journal, Emerald Publishing (the leading AM-related journal, in its 16th year of publication).
Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium proceedings (the premiere academic conference on AM since 1990). All papers are available for download at http://utwired.utexas.edu/lff/symposium/.
Wohlers Report 2011: Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing State of the Industry. 2011. Fort Collins, Colo.: Wohlers Associates (a detailed industry analysis, updated annually).
www.additive3d.com (the well-known “Castle Island” website. Its terminology is a bit dated, but it has a lot of information for people who are new to the industry.)