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A New Industrial Future? - 3D Printing and the Reconfiguring of Production, Distribution, and Consumption draws upon expert interviews, scenario workshops and various case studies assesses the potential future of global manufacturing, freight transport, world trade and land use. The locating of 3D printers in homes, offices, stores and workshops would disrupt existing systems and pose novel challenges for incumbents. It offers the first book-length social scientific analysis of the character and impacts of a new system of manufacturing that is in formation. The book will be of interest to urban planners, policy makers, social scientists, futurologists, economists, as well as general readers by offering inquiry on this future upheaval in the means of production.

A New Industrial Future?
3D Printing and the Reconfiguring of Production, Distribution, and Consumption


Thomas Birtchnell and John Urry


2017 | 134 pages | 4 B/W Illus. | 9781138022928


Reviewed By

Jeff Thurston

In the future 3D printing is likely to increase across manufacturing, business and personal use. This will have profound impacts on production, distribution and concumption networks. The technology is advancing rapidly, and causing many questions and issues to arise. Authors Thomas Birtchnell and John Urry examine 3D printing and influences and issues that are arising. They draw upon historic, geographic and social factors that have been observed during technological changes which significantly change pathways into the future. 

The book begins by addressing the rapid growth in 3D printing. It explains the market size, the rapid growth and the widening market. The concept of 'thinking additively' is put forward, explaining that as 3D printing is put into practice, the distance to manufacturing and fabrication shortens. That is - people can prototype quicker, and build models and adjust them in the design phase. In some cases engineering at a high level can be conducted using real models that are printed as exact replicas. Such a practice would allow fabricators and designers the ability to test and learn from many examples before deciding upon the final selection. 

In a retail environment, consumers might select one model over another, and even print the model they wish to purchase. On construction sites, new materials and sizes might be selected printed right on the job site. As 3D printers are sold to consumers and many other applications, there are fears that traditional business models might change significantly. The authors do suggest take will take place, but also draw analogy's to previous markets where widespread film use did not decrease wider uses and business development in the camera and film sectors. 

Without doubt th largest shift to be expected will be the rise in 2D to 3D ways of capturing information and presenting it. Suddenly, 3D printing will require 3D data if the printed models are to resemble real-world designs. Such an arrangement means that data (for 3D printing) could be transferred, moved and used to create products and services at many locations - and sometimes with designers and producers a separate locations. In other cases, collaboration would rise and many people could be working digitally together, on the same design and models at the same time. Such a scenario is akin to building information modeling (BIM) where infrastructure is collaborated upon, shared and re-worked between many participants for large 3D projects models and projects. 

To say 3D printing is new is not correct. The technology has been around a long time, with some printers being available over ten years ago. The problem in putting it to use has been more aligned to the reasons for using 3D, the social influences and being capable of understanding the benefits of collaboration and influences across systems and networks. The authors explain this history and such factors. It might even be imagined that towns and cities in the future would have large do-it-yourself (DIY) centers where production might take place locally. Such a concept, at a time when globalization is widely debated, would mean 'onshoring' actually expands as local producers create more. However, as mentioned previously, 3D data moves and local print production from 3D design far away would continue to see expansion. 

The authors do open the debate about the potential rise in plastic production and it's influence on the environment through more 3D printing. The concepts of disability are explored and described and there is mention of the potential issues arising when other kinds of materials and resources might be used in 3D printing. Social practices tied to the geographic use of resources are similarly examined. Indeed, 3d printing offers the potential of less mass produced goods as democratization of the print chain increases new producers, ideas and exploration. 

To understand the influence of these changes more dramatically, one might consider how 3D printing is being used on the production of cars, airplanes or even house construction. At the same time, this book dives into the question of digital rights and the sharing of 3D data across boundaries usually protected to avoid copyright and so on. 

In summary, A New Industrial Future? - 3D Printing and the Reconfiguring of Production, Distribution, and Consumption is a very interesting book. It not only introduces 3D printing, but it describes the main issues and practices that this technology will bring to society. readers will learn about profound influence that it will bring to manufacturing and distribution chains. And it also raises issues connected with the environment and legal issues. 

Anyone unfamiliar with 3D printing will find this book immensely interesting and useful. It introduces the technology and explains how it will impact society. With so many other books describing the technology, this book is welcome because it describes the impacts and usefulness of 3D printing on current management and design decision making - including topics many do not usually think about. If you want to understand why 3D printing is important and how future manufacturing is likely to develop, then this book is an exceptional read.