Edited by John R. Bryson, Jennifer Clark and Vida Vanchan
Chapter 7: Tool-less manufacture: digital fabrication, 3D printing and the third industrial revolution
The current era is one of great technological and scientific developments in which new products appear to be released on an almost daily basis. Nevertheless, nearly all new product development occurs through a process of gentle refinement and evolution rather than via major disruptive technological innovations. Major manufacturing and technological developments, or technology disruptors, occur much less frequently. Over the last two hundred years of industrial development it is perhaps possible to identify just a handful of key technology disruptors: the development of an efficient steam engine to deliver almost limitless power, the construction of mass transportation systems to effectively deliver goods and raw materials, and the invention of the transistor that has so transformed communications, enabling the distribution of ‘soft’ content-based goods. However, it is not these technological innovations alone that have led to the explosion of the availability of cheaper and ever better quality products. Rather it is the coupling of these technical innovations with a market need and an efficient manufacturing methodology or process. It was Henry Ford’s approach to mass manufacture, not the invention of the car, that so transformed car manufacture from a cottage industry into a global business (Chandler, 1964; Bryson and Henry, 2001).
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