Yes, 3D printing is cool. I'm probably in the 90th percentile when it comes to 3D printing, having printed hundreds of parts throughout my career. 3D printing is certainly going to change the future in many ways, yet there have been multiple articles on 3D printing recently that have been written by monkeys. These articles are bound to confuse the uninitiated.
Printing every auto repair part
I read an article recently that went into detailed discussion of how the supply chain for automotive parts would drastically change in the near future due to 3D printing. I read it without my usual critical discernment, and it wasn't until later that I realized how completely ridiculous the idea is.
The gist of the article was that a part could be ordered through a local supplier who would have a license to print the part. The OEM would get a fee for the 3D data. This would provide a significant paradigm shift for aftermarket replacement parts. It sounded plausible.
Then it hit me, what a foolish idea it truly was. Think about it for a second. What was the last part you purchased for your car? Perhaps a battery? Maybe an alternator? How in the heck are you going to print either of those? I have a car with a broken mirror. Is that printable? How about a light bulb? A tire?
There is very little on a car that could actually be printed. Perhaps a knob on the stereo. Maybe an air conditioning vent. Most of the parts on a vehicle that eventually need to be replaced are complex assemblies that may never be printable, certainly not in the foreseeable future.
Who needs engineers when there’s 3D printing?
Another article that was extremely disturbing claimed that due to the availability of 3D printing, "It’s easy to imagine a world that needs only one engineer for every 10 engineers currently employed."
This was due to the availability of online apps that allow neophytes to draw in 3D. The author actually claimed that because a lot of people online can now make rings (I'm assuming she was talking about jewelry), there would be no more need for engineers to design rings. I didn't know that engineers designed rings! Well, all you plastic-designing-ring-engineers better freshen up your resumes.
At first I thought this article was written by just a normal magazine editor, but I was shocked to see that the writer had graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cleveland State University (hey CSU, check yourselves).
How does a mechanical engineer not have the slightest understanding of what goes into engineering a product? It's insulting that this editor thinks that all of the math, physics, materials, strength of materials, statics, dynamics, thermal, fluids, and other courses required to graduate as a mechanical engineer are not necessary to design products. In that case, every university around the world that provides degrees in engineering is ripping off its students.
Currently I design drilling rigs. There's not a single part I can think of on a drilling rig that I would have any interest in printing. I've worked in aerospace, hydrogen fuel cells, heavy off-road equipment, underwater machinery, and I've had hundreds of clients with thousands of diverse products, and I rarely leverage 3D printing. Almost never for a final product. I've found it a useful tool to prototype injection-molded parts and other simple trinkets. Let’s be honest; if 3D printing disappeared altogether, I wouldn't lose much sleep.
Just because you can go online, design a cell phone cover or a plastic wrench with a simplistic app and have it printed, that doesn’t mean we’ll see 90% of all engineering jobs vanish. These writers are not only showing their abysmal understanding of engineering and the limited capabilities of 3D printing, they are truly monkeys among monkeys.
Tell us your experiences with monkey-designed products. Send stories to Jennifer Campbell for Made by Monkeys.