3-D printing, also known by its technical name of “additive manufacturing,” is a concept that makes tech-heads and entrepreneurs bubble with excitement.
Additive manufacturing could make any town a hub for the production of goods — or anyhome for that matter. As costs for 3-D printing technology continue to drop, theoretically, in the near future, anyone could produce toys, car parts, batteries, clothing, and a range of other products the consumer (now the manufacturer!) dreams up.
This could dramatically improve the efficiency of the economy. In an oft-cited study, the Department of Energy estimated that 3-D printing can reduce energy costs by 50 percent and cut material costs by 90 percent. This could also change our definitions of what constitutes the manufacturing sector, the commercial sector and the residential sector. Is a commercial business that is printing and selling medical products now a healthcare manufacturer? Is a guy printing custom car parts out of his garage now an auto manufacturer?
“This will reshape the built environment,” said Skip Laitner, an economist who focuses on energy efficiency. “This has the potential to revolutionize the way we make everything — and the implications for energy use are large.”
Indeed, that shift in our traditional manufacturing could also have a positive impact on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. So could 3-D printing be a part of a comprehensive climate and energy efficiency strategy?