This post will make you familiar with 3D Printing. Although 3D Printing can have critical benefits for business continuity of operation (think printing parts immediately during a critical event) it goes beyond the scope of business continuity. Ideas, techniques and companies transforming the industry are discussed. If you have interest in digital transformation you will enjoy this post. If you strictly want to learn about business continuity tools and techniques you may want to skip this post.

When we think of 3D printers we think of the early home versions that simply printed trinkets out of plastic. Emerging technologies start that way, using simple use cases. They are often powered by the home market. Then rapid growth takes over. Finally, businesses leverage the momentum of emerging technology. It is important to be able to identify future technology trends early in the game so you are ready to pounce when opportunity appears. 3D printing is an opportunity that is here, it is real and it is presenting many new business and career opportunities!

3D printing is revolutionizing health, manufacturing, retail and design. What you are able to 3D print is only limited by your imagination. It is enabling organizations and individual’s users to create custom products in new ways, reduce waste, save energy and generate revenue!

Some of the current use-cases of 3D printing boggle the mind. In fact, my editor questioned my sanity when I described 3D printing of full size cars, houses, planes, robots, custom shoes, musical instruments and more. I proved each example to her and they made it to!

There are many important advantages to 3D printing and some are life changing:

3D printing makes it economical to print unique custom products. Custom has a higher perceived value than mass produced identical products. In many cases I would much prefer a custom object than a generic one. Businesses can take an existing product and make a better and cheaper version using 3D printing. The result can mean new revenue streams and reduced costs.

It is easy to 3D print a complex object without first creating a mold and pouring in plastic or metal. Creating complex molds is expensive and time consuming. 3D printing can reduce those costs. Not having to build and use molds helps translate into lower energy use for 3D printing, up to50 percent less energy for certain processes compared to conventional manufacturing processes.

Instead you can feed the 3D printer a computer design and it will print to the exact specifications. There are platforms

online that have libraries of designs that other people have made. You can print parts or send the design to a co-worker half way around the world and he or she can print the identical object.

Why not brainstorm with your team about new custom products that would benefit your customers or attract new customers? Another option is creating low-cost high-value products and giving them away as incentives to purchase your existing products!

If customer demand is high, you can automate the process so customers can design custom sizes, colors or text they want on their product on your easy to use web site. They can fill out a form or build a simulation of the product  by rotating it and customizing properties. They then can submit it to your database and you can pass the information to your 3D printer. Instant customer value is created with zero effort on you part!

The use of 3D printers is snowballing. As prices of printers and materials continue to plummet and the technology becomes faster and more precise, 3D printing  will change the way companies and consumers think about manufacturing.

3D printing makes experimenting with new concepts and designs easy and cost effective. I speak about MVP’s (Minimal Valuable Products) for success in other posts on, but 3D printers extend that agile mindset of building and improving in iterative steps based on user feedback to the physical world of atoms for the first time.

3D Printers come in two flavors additive and subtractive. Each has its benefits.

  1. Subtractive printing (manufacturing) starts with a block of material which is reduced according to the design specs to create an object. The result: Subtractive manufacturing can waste up to 30 pounds of material  for every 1 pound of useful material in some parts, as per a finding from the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Lab.
  2. The additive method is more common. It is like a laser printer that lays down layers of ink, except 3D printers
  3. Lay down layers of raw material such as plastic and metal. Innovators are experimenting using creative materials like chocolate and other food items, wax, ceramics and bio- material like human cells.

Each new layer is attached to the previous one until the object is complete. Objects are produced from a digital 3D file, such as a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing or a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI). Additive 3D printing is very efficient and cost effective. Waste is minimal as approximately 98 percent of the raw material is used in the finished part.

Oak Ridge National Lab is partnering to develop a new commercial additive manufacturing system that is 200 to 500 times faster and will be able to print plastic components 10 times larger than today’s commercial 3D printers.

The flexibility of 3D printing allows designers to make changes easily without the need to set up additional equipment or tools. It also enables manufacturers to create devices matched to a patient’s anatomy (patient-specific devices) or devices with very complex internal structures. These capabilities have sparked huge interest in 3D printing of medical devices and other products, including food, household items, and automotive parts.

If airplane and cars parts can now be 3D printed, why not specialized parts required during a disaster? For the right company or possibly a city impacted by an earthquake or tornado, that could be valuable and perhaps life-saving. If a company uses a wide variety of parts it could get very expensive to insure there are adequate supplies of all back up parts on-hand at all times. Waiting for a critical part to be shipped could be slow and expensive. It could impact revenue and lead to loss of customer confidence. I am already experimenting with 3D printed backup parts in my role as a Director of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery for an 18.6 billion dollar company.

It would be great to have the ability to print a small, yet critical, conveyor, air conditioner or printer part, if the vendor supplied online 3D plans on their website. Even if the 3D printer costs a few thousand dollars it might be insignificant measured against the expense of downtime and not being able to create and ship products to customers.

Zortrax ( a 3D printer company. They  describe a 3D printed parts scenario on their web site: ‘One of the Bosch factories started using Zortrax M200 printers to repair production line machines. This reduced the cost of one spare from €450 (approx. U.S. $523) to €1 (approx. U.S.

$1.16) and reduced the time necessary to obtain it. This, in turn, meant shortening the process of repair. Savings through this technology have already surpassed 80  thousand euros.’ I expect similar solutions to be used by more and more companies in the near future.

When Elon Musk sends a team to Mars I am confident some sort of 3D printer will be on the journey. Rather than taking every conceivable part with them the deep space pioneers will be able to pick and choose from millions of print on-demand parts. The printer might even be able to build parts for pod-type dwelling structures or the entire structure.

When NASA is researching a technology, I have found it is often a good indicator of a positive trend in the future.  On December 6, 2017 NASA held ‘The 3D Printing In Zero- G Technology (3D Printing in Zero-G) Experiment’ demonstrating that a 3D printer works normally in space. As you know from the top of this post, additive 3D printers extrude streams of heated plastic, metal or other material, building layer on top of layer to create 3 dimensional objects. Testing a 3D printer using relatively low-temperature plastic feedstock on the International Space Station is the first step towards establishing an on-demand machine shop in space, a critical enabling component for deep-space crewed missions and in-space manufacturing.

They described the experiment that whether in space, manufacturing or other earth bound businesses three- dimensional printing offers a fast and inexpensive way to manufacture parts on-site and on-demand. This is a huge benefit to long-term missions with restrictions on weight and room for cargo. After testing of hardware for 3D printing on parabolic flights from Earth resulted in parts like those made on the ground, the next step was testing aboard the space station. The test included printing items designed by students and results showed that 3D printers work normally in space. This work will contribute to establishing on-demand

manufacturing on long space missions and help to improve 3D printing methods on the ground.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) ( is on the cutting

edge of uses for 3D printing and many other technologies. I very much enjoy their site and the great work they do. This is definitely a resource you should comb through if you are exploring 3D for your business and for interesting new digital ideas.

One such ORNL use-case combines clean energy technologies into a 3D-printed building and vehicle to showcase a new approach to energy use, storage and consumption. The Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy (AMIE) demonstration, displayed at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Industry Day event, is a model for energy-efficient systems that link buildings, vehicles and the grid. Notice that multiple emerging technologies are applied to solve a problem. This will be emphasized in other posts on as we discuss how digital products are helping create a smarter new world.

An ORNL team worked with industrial partners to manufacture and connect a natural-gas-powered hybrid electric vehicle with a solar-powered building to create an integrated energy system. Power can flow in either direction between the vehicle and building through a lab-developed wireless technology. The approach allows the car to provide supplemental power to the 210-square-foot house when the sun is not shining. You can watch an animation of the energy flow here: The demonstration also showcases additive manufacturing rapid prototyping potential in architecture and vehicle design; the car and house both were built using large-scale 3D printers.

The 38x12x13-foot building was designed by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) through the University of Tennessee-ORNL Governor’s  Chair for Energy and Urbanism. It was assembled by Clayton Homes, the nation’s largest builder of manufactured housing. Connecting the house to the 3D-printed vehicle demonstrates the concept of integrating two energy streams, buildings and transportation, which typically operate

independently. Working together, they designed a building that innovates construction and building practices and a vehicle with a long enough range to serve as a primary power source,” said ORNL’s Roderick Jackson, who led the AMIE demonstration project. “Our integrated system allows you to get multiple uses out of your vehicle.”

I would never forgive myself if I did not ‘steer’ you to this amazing video of how ORNL printed a full-size car. This is the one I showed to my doubting editor. It shows the process in a time lapse and the ‘way cool car’ is one I could only wish I owned.

Apis Cor ( is a San Francisco startup that prints buildings. Their special mission is to help people around the world improve their living conditions. Too many people world-wide cannot afford to buy or build a house. Building the industrial way is expensive and time consuming. Apis Cor has radically changed the home building equation using innovation and powerful technology. They developed 3D printing technology, new building materials and a mobile 3D printer to build affordable, eco-friendly houses within a single day, capable of lasting up to 175 years. They have ambitious plans to print houses on every continent – even Antarctica if needed. They are also ready for the challenge of printing houses on Mars. I like their big thinking and fearless attitude. Printing houses on Mars just might catch the attention of a certain space, battery and software entrepreneur that also thinks big and drives a

Tesla! Hopefully he is reading

Kabuku Inc. ( prides itself in developing products and services that fuse hardware, software and design with core digital fabrication technology. When you visit their website, use your browser’s translation feature, unless you read Japanese. They have an impressive number of 3D tools, platforms and case studies, including a cool 3D printed car they jointly developed with Honda Motor Company – I want one of these as well. In addition, they offer open innovation 3D printing solutions, a 3D print cloud API solution, a 3D scanning solution and a 3D printing partner solution.

They also own Rinkak which is Asia’s largest 3D Marketplace featuring a wonderful assortment of 3D printed products for personal and business use.

If that is not enough ‘3D candy’, they offer “Rinkak Business which provides enterprise business critical cloud services and Rinkak Factory 3D Printing Operation Services for Factory Users.

Desktop Metal ( is reinventing the way engineering and manufacturing teams produce metal parts, from prototyping through mass production. In 2013, CEO Ric Fulop began collaborating with world-leading experts in materials science, engineering, and 3D printing. Their work together over the course of two years drew multiple independent inventions together to form the basis for Desktop Metal’s technology.

Markforged ( is also developing affordable 3D metal print systems that can be put into action fast. On their website, they describe scenarios where 90-99% cost savings can be achieved using their printing solution versus the typical manufacturing process.

Autodesk Tinkercad ( is an easy-to-use, fun, browser based 3D design tool that allows you to create 3D printable items. I know it is fun, because I enjoy it. It is used by designers, hobbyists, teachers, and children. It can be used to make toys, prototypes, home decor, Minecraft models, jewelry and much more.

The Tinkercad website describes their automated process to move design to printed product: ‘When a user wants their 3D model printed, they select ‘Order a 3D Print’ from the Design menu. Tinkercad then connects to our API and forwards the model to the i.materialise 3D printing interface (called the 3D Print Lab).’

There is no better time for companies and professionals to begin exploring the possibilities of 3D. You can experiment  in your office at home or at a Makers facility