How 3-D printing and related technologies will soon “transform the way practically everything is made.”
“Business will never be the same,” writes management strategist D’Aveni (Strategy/Dartmouth Coll.; Strategic Capitalism: The New Economic Strategy for Winning the Capitalist Cold War, 2012, etc.). His readable, well-researched book traces the rise of 3-D printing from its inception in a late-night 1983 experiment to its present applications in manufacturing hearing aids, joint implants, and fighter jets to its quietly evolving role in the rise of giant new businesses he calls pan-industrials, which will “dominate the global economy” within a few decades. As the author explains, 3-D printing is one of many methods known as additive manufacturing, which involves building up materials to make a product. Once AM was deemed useful solely for making customized products in small quantities. Now, it is being used to make “standardized products in mass quantities” by companies like GE and Lockheed Martin, drawn by AM’s extraordinary ability to make “almost anything anywhere,” with greater flexibility, economies of scope and scale, and “levels of quality and efficiency once thought impossible.” Combined with innovative digital tools, writes the author, AM methods will soon replace traditional manufacturing. The resulting pan-industrial firms—“voracious, ever-expanding industrial titans”—will serve as AM–based platforms connecting customers and suppliers in the same manner as Amazon and other consumer platforms. D’Aveni acknowledges that all of this sounds “astounding,” but it is real, and he offers vivid accounts of how AM is playing out today at Zara, a Spanish apparel maker, and Jabil, a Florida-based electronics supplier. Focusing on business (as opposed to technical) aspects, the author details the many benefits of AM and its likely social consequences (obsolescence of millions of jobs but also enough new value in the economy to fund a universal basic income). “Virtually every” manufacturer will have to face this revolution, he writes. Essential business reading, with advice on how manufacturers can join the AM bandwagon.