Weinberg, Michael (2010), ‘It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology’, https://www.publicknowledge.org/news-blog/blogs/it-will-be-awesome-if-th....
Despite the marketing clangour of the “maker movement”, shared machine shops are currently “fringe phenomena” since they play a minor role in the production of wealth, knowledge, political consensus and the social organisation of life. Interestingly, however, they also prominently share the core transformations experienced in contemporary capitalism.
The advocates of mass production have identified the superior efficiency of the large corporation with its control over the external environment. But before we continue, let us draw a quick summary of the shortcomings of the large scale industrial model.
The implications of such a paradigm shift in manufacturing for environmental sustainability are enormous. ‘Because they only use the exact material required, 3D printers could eliminate waste from traditional manufacturing – in which up to 90% of raw material is discarded’ (Webster 2013). In addition to realising economies in the use of raw materials, the type of distributed manufacturing undergirded by RepRap-like 3D printing implies a massive reduction in global transportation costs attendant upon the localisation of production (Rifkin 2011).
Industrial scale 3D printers have for a long time now threatened to change the face of traditional assembly line manufacturing, but it hasn’t really kicked-off the revolution yet. The greatest known limitation of additive manufacturing is its inability to mass-produce. To replace the millions of parts manufactured daily in an assembly line in a factory in China by additive manufacturing would mean installing vast numbers of industrial scale 3D printers that would demand astronomical capital investments that would not be economically competitive.