3D Printing is not disruptive. I’ll admit I see how the term came about. Subverting the status quo, hacking our minds and disrupting stagnant industries have become battlecries–and for good reason. Those can all be important topics and help us keep thinking of fresh ways to approach problems.

3D PrintingBut personally, I don’t think we have to be so obnoxious or contentious about it. We don’t have to go into companies, slam the big red button, and halt operations to introduce 3D printing because the truth is that after working with hundreds of different companies, all using 3D printing in various professional settings, I don’t see much disruption. I don’t hear the manager saying, “Thanks to you I had to lay off a dozen workers because this machine took their job.” I see solutions where no one realized there was a problem. I see dozens of tweaks to processes people didn’t know could get better.

For instance, the image to the right is a picture of a fixture that was made when workers at a plant frequently hurt themselves while cutting foam tubes. Having a 3D printer they were able to quickly model up this fixture and print it. Since it was such a quick and easy fix they were able to implement this within two days of having the idea.

The reason I hate the word “disruptive” is that I don’t want anyone to feel like moving into additive manufacturing is this monumental all-in-one step that will change everything. From what I have seen, it starts with a few prototypes here and there and the next thing you know someone is making a custom tool to hold an annoying part that was cumbersome to put together.

In the long run, yes, I believe 3D printing “disrupts” industries. However, I see no benefit in putting it like that. Think of it more as the kind of employee you hire for one job, but ends up pitching in and helping anyone they can and you look back and think, “Man, am I glad I hired them!” Most people aren’t going to be mad at nice guy Bob for volunteering to work extra hours to make sure a deadline is met. They won’t say, “Bob is so disruptive.”

Anyway, I am probably being nitpicky on the term, but from what I have seen we need to look at 3D printing as a process that, if embraced in the right environment, can release benefits you would not have imagined.

PS: While I am at it 3D Printing is a terrible term. It totally creates the wrong idea when you first hear it. I would have preferred “Progressive Layer Production Methodologies,” but I suppose PLPM doesn’t have much of a ring to it.