MIT For Managers: 3D Printing the Future

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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One of the most popular exhibits at the “open house” last month, celebrating the 100th anniversary of MIT’s move from Boston to Cambridge, was a 3D printer that churned out playful swirls and circles of soft-serve ice cream. Designed by mechanical engineering students, the ice-cream maker — cobbled together with a low-cost 3D printer inverted inside a small freezer, a Cuisinart, and a tube dispensing liquid nitrogen to freeze the printed shapes — captivated visitors young and old.

In recent years, many of us have seen or heard of hobbyists using 3D printers to make various items out of plastic filament, one layer at a time. Dentists are starting to print dental devices (like crowns) safely and efficiently. Commercially, companies such as GE have embraced 3D printing (known more broadly as additive manufacturing) to build product prototypes quickly and economically. According to MIT’s John Hart, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in Contemporary Technology and Mechanical Engineering, “We are still learning what 3D printing can do today.” However, he says, the convergence of digital design, the Internet, and low-cost automation is certain to open up new vistas. “All that it will do in the future is something we don’t know yet.”

Hart, who teaches undergraduate, graduate, and executive courses in additive manufacturing at MIT, notes that the main attributes of 3D printing thus far have been its ability to customize items (for example, ductwork for aircraft or airway stents for newborn babies) and to test design iterations quickly, permitting faster scale-up using existing manufacturing methods. Yet as the technology advances, users are finding that the list of potential benefits is growing. “Importantly,” says Hart, “you can now print things with complex geometries and mixed materials that traditional manufacturing can’t make.”

Where will additive manufacturing go from here? In the coming years, Hart thinks it will advance in multiple directions, reflecting the different types of value it’s able to create (and the trend toward “democratizing the innovation process”). He encourages students and managers to test the limits of materials and think as creatively and broadly as possible about solutions and opportunities to generate value. Prototyping to test product features and save time, he says, is only one of the directions.

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Topics

Frontiers

An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
See All Articles in This Section

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Comments (2)
Ryan willson
3D Printing applications cover various sectors from education to industry, and the whole value chain from prototypes to spare part management. 3D printing has delivered a lot of opportunities in the aviation and manufacturing industries, with many big names using the technology to their advantage.3D printing has made a huge impact on the engineering industry in a number of ways.
Siva dasan
Additive Manufacturing deployment may make strange friendships! future industrial ecosystems! 
 The new gen college -drop entrepreneurs  will  enjoy playing  in the  backyards of  the  big brands in the market. The existing big brother  OEMs  may  incubate the thrill and the 3D minds of new gen start -ups to tap out their design ingenuity,acumen , cleverness and simplicity . OEMs cam make juice of their choice  out of it.  we know the additive manufacturing after maturing in the prototype segment, it has slowly started to rule the tooling segment. AM is in its second phase growth phase. Subsequently  all  the three   links of engineering business : product development realm, manufacturing operations and supply chain  will witness a  total digital top down  rejuvenation.  This will stitch up a win win industrial habitat  for both big -brother- OEMs and tiny tot startups. Delivering experience to the customers exceeding to their  expectation ..

Wonderful post . .. thanks Bruce Posner .. Keep  expecting the best from you