May 12, 2015

Rise of 3D Printing Factories and a Future without Work

CloudDDM is a company that operates like most 3D printing services where you can order parts through a web interface, but they're able to produce any part at high volumes and speed. They've recently opened a 3D printing factory inside UPS international hub in Louisville USA with one hundred 3D printers and plans to increase to a thousand. The machines run 24/7 and all the logistics are handled by UPS. They print in several materials like ABS, Polycarbonate (PC), Polycarbonate-ABS (PC-ABS) and ULTEM 1010 with several color options.

CloudDDM 3D printers. DDM stands for "Direct Digital Manufacturing". Image source: CNN

Now the truly amazing (or frightening) thing about this factory is that it is highly automatized and operated by only THREE WORKERS! 3 people! 3! One per eight-hour shift! Is this a new trend? Factories without ANY workers?

Lets see what other players are doing...

GE is a well-known aerospace 3D printing manufacturer and here is how they see future of work:

Lots of 3d printers and robots producing and only a few people designing and carrying furniture. They look out of place and almost like a decoration. I'll write about future of design work in the future post about this topic ... but don't think machines can not design stuff also ...

Materialise has a 3D printing "factory" facilities with what looks like more people working:

But this is not a pure "factory" but more diverse design and production center with design, product development, and engineering personnel. Another point is that they probably displace many "traditional" workers as they use cutting-edge technology and logistics. Maybe even several orders of magnitude more than they employ. If you look closely you will find that even some of the workplaces showed in this video could be automated now or replaced by machines in a couple of years.

Are we seeing a start of 3D printing factories replacing industrial workers? In the '90ties during the first dot-com bubble, people predicted that the postal services will disappear because of email communication but they were wrong since they took over the much increased package shipments due to the rise of e-commerce. Could this happen again with increased volume of 3D printed products? Probably not. 

Because the whole transport logistic sector is getting automatized! Deimler just presented their autonomous truck and the state of Nevada is supporting it with new autonomous vehicle legislation. Even the company said it will take some 10 years to have fully autonomous trucks on the roads with major regulatory obstacles but they are moving in that direction with most of the other tech companies like Tesla and Google. Do keep in mind that "truck driver" is the most common profession in the USA with more than 9 million employed in the trucking industry or 1 in every 13 employed Americans.

Is this onset of technological unemployment unfolding in real life? Technological unemployment (or desourcing) is defined as a process of unemployment being caused mainly by technological advances. It is a controversial theory that has yet to be confirmed or disproved.

In 2014 Pew Research surveyed 1,896 technology professionals and economists and found a split in opinions: 48 percent of them believed that new technologies would displace more jobs than they would create by the year 2025, while 52 percent maintained that they would not. The implications of it being a reality would have a HUGE societal impact on a global scale. What jobs are future proof?

Future will be interesting. Stay smart and think about all the possible scenarios!

As I live in a country with very high unemployment I have a very personal interest in this topic and I think it is very important to investigate it and stay informed about it.

Do you think your job could be done by a machine or software? Share your opinions in comment section

Since this post drew a lot of attention and there were many interesting developments, I've decided to try to document further developments and new 3D factories being built:

Update (07.02.2016.):

Siemens opened first European 3d printing factory in Sweden.  The €21.4 million facilities, located in Siemens industrial plant in Finspång, Sweden will have 20 employees and multiple industrial grade metal 3d printers. The factory will produce prototypes, end-product parts and replacement parts for repair focused on gas turbines.
Thorbjorn Fors, global business director for Distributed Generation at Siemens, said of the facility:
“With this investment, we can develop new and improved components and repairs, for example burner tips to serve our industrial gas turbine SGT-800, significantly faster. Using this innovative approach, we will shorten repair times from months to weeks. It is an important step in our ability to respond to the needs of our customers.”
Full press release in Swedish.

As we see there are more 3d printing factories being built with a very small number of workers. This is also a start of the change in the Europe.

Siemens 3d printing factory in Sweden. Looks very clean. And empty of people. 

Update (15.04.2016.):

There are more 3D printing factories and production/prototyping centers being opened all over the world:

Airbus opened one in the Ludwig Bolköw Campus near Munich.

From the source:
The Aerospace Factory, as the new 3D printing center at the facility is being called, will be based out of the Ludwig Bolköw Campus, an industry and university collaborative venture located on-site. The location will be used to research the 3D printing of endparts for use in aerospace through work performed by a number of important players including: Airbus Safran Launchers; metal 3D printer manufacturer EOS; engine maker MTU Aero Engines; the Technical University of Munich and its Institute for Machine Tools and Industrial Management; Airbus Group Innovations; the Fraunhofer Development Center for X-ray Technology (EZRT); Industrieanlagen-Betriebsgesellschaft mbH (IABG); Airbus subsidiary APWorks; virtual prototyping firm the ESI Group; and the Airbus Endowed Chair for Integrative Simulation and Engineering of Materials and Processes (ISEMP) of the University of Bremen.

GE opened 200 M USD advanced manufacturing center in Pune, India.

From the source:
In 2015, GE unveiled its $200 million, Multi-Modal advanced manufacturing facility in Chakan, Pune, part of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Dubbed a “brilliant factory” by its creators, the facility was established to produce jet engine parts, locomotive components, wind turbines, and a host of other additively and traditionally manufactured components for a number of GE companies. The facility now employs around 1,500 workers, responsible for operating 3D printers and other machinery. "The idea is to service a multitude of businesses—from oil and gas, to aviation, transportation, and distributed power—all under the same roof," said GE's Amit Kumar, overseer of the Multi-Modal facility, via TechRepublic.
The Multi-Modal facility provides GE with several advantages. By bringing a number of interconnected operations under one roof, the company will allegedly save up to ten times as much money than if it had established individual facilities for separate business lines. The facility is also helping to bring plastic and metal additive manufacturing technology to its India operations, an advancement which offers the company huge flexibility and cost-saving potential.

Eventually, the Pune facility will produce critical end-use components such as the jet engine fuel nozzle, but it will first service a more urgent need: 3D printing replacement parts for broken machinery—parts that would otherwise have to be made in bulk and stored, or sourced from an external supplier. Replacement parts, especially for older appliances, can be incredibly difficult to source when those appliances are discontinued or simply made in small quantities. 3D printing these replacement parts is much faster than producing them using traditional manufacturing techniques, with previous timescales of three to five months reduced to around one week when additive manufacturing is implemented
Can you spot a single human worker?


Update (27.06.2016.):

GE Oil & Gas is opening new 3D printing factory line with advanced robotics in Talamona, Italy. It is investing some 10 million USD in new production lines to 3D print burners for gas turbine combustion chambers and other advanced components such as nozzles. These new advanced manufacturing lines establish this site as a center of excellence for the oil and gas industry. It also used advanced production software to manage the factory.
“The use of automated production and new techniques like additive manufacturing allow us to develop parts and products more efficiently, precisely and cost-effectively, accelerating the speed at which we can bring product to market,” said Davide Marrani, general manager for manufacturing for GE Oil & Gas’ Turbomachinery Solutions business line.

“The opportunities for the application of additive manufacturing and 3D printing in the oil and gas industry are only just starting to be explored, and it will require an ongoing rethink of component design and production approach,” said Massimiliano Cecconi, GE Oil & Gas Materials & Manufacturing Technologies Executive.

You can see the factory grounds and some robotic machines with end products here:

As factories as growing so is the software ecosystem that connects them B2B and B2C. Fast Radius has developed "virtual inventory" software for their 3d printing factory. It enables companies to deliver parts "on demand" and "just in time". Rick Smith from Fast Radius said:
“On average, the rule of thumb for the cost of holding physical inventory is about 25 percent the cost of the part per year,” he explained. “There is a significant cost in terms of cost of capital, warehousing space, security and damage. The other major problem with physical inventory is that you’ve got to produce in large volumes to get the unit costs low. This works great when you’re producing iPhones and you know you’re going to sell 10 million of them. But, when all of a sudden you’ve got an essential part and you know you’re only going to need 15 of them per year—maybe it’s a critical part to a machine in a manufacturing operation that doesn’t break very often, but is extremely important when it does break—then it doesn’t make sense to go through the setup and all of the costs related to doing a larger-scale production.”
The centralized manufacturing model of the 20th century may not be done away with soon, but the shift is already under way. To introduce its 3D printing services to potential OEMs, Fast Radius has partnered with about a dozen companies that are looking to make the shift to a virtual inventory. “To start,” Smith explained, “the companies that we’re working with are identifying 1,000 or 1,500 parts that are excellent candidates for on demand production. This may be a small percentage of their overall inventory, but as costs drop precipitously and quality continues to rise over time, these companies know that a larger and larger percentage of physical inventory will be moved to a virtual inventory model.”

Update (16.11.2016.):

here is a vision of the digital manufacturing based future factory by EOS GmbH, a German advanced 3d printing developer, and producer. How many human jobs can you spot?


Update (03.12.2016.):

Here is an interview with a GE executive who claims that they will make 10000 3D printers in next ten years. Can you imagine what effect will that have on the industry and employment?

Update (02.01.2017.):

There is even an Elysium named future factory project. Elysium. Think about it.

Update (05.01.2017.):

Today I found out that Amazon company uses 45000 robots while entire county of Croatia where I live has 175 industrial robots.

Update (27.01.2017.):

Adidas is also starting a 3d printed shoe factory named the "Speedfactory":

Update (01.02.2017.):

How many 3d printing factories are there in China? Foxconn will fire many thousands of people and have robotic manufacturing lines but there is little info about 3d printers and additive manufacturing. I just found a random image of a Chinese production facility with massive 3d printers.

Update (11.02.2017.):

Swiss advanced manufacturing company Oerlikon have announced plans to build a new 3D printing facility in North Carolina. The company will spend $55 million on the manufacturing hub over the next two years and will create over 100 jobs in the long term. The state-of-the-art R&D and production facility will be located in Huntersville, Charlotte.

Source and more info:

Here is Goldman Sachs view on the factory of the future:

Update (23.04.2017.):

Voodoo Manufacturing developed a robot operated 3d print farm to be able to compete with injection molding. They are based in Broklyn.

Project Skywalker presentation video:

Medium post by Jonathan Schwartz, CPO, Voodoo Manufacturing with more details:

Carbon produced 10000 plastic parts for Oracle servers in very short time using their CLIP technology in what is basically a micro 3d printing factory. The efficiency of this production method is incredible. It will certainly "optimize" some jobs away.

Source post with a case study:

GE Aviation is building their "Brilliant Factories" with advanced 3d printing for aerospace industry:

Optomac is starting to print sensors on turbine blades with aerosol jet technology in cooperation with GE:

Update (28.05.2017.):

Siemens has developed revolutionary 3d printed metal blades for high-tech gas turbines:


Update (02.07.2017.)

Formlabs developed the Form Cell stereolithography (SLA) automation system. It is the first step towards decentralized smaller size 3d printing production cells. In their presentation, you will see that they actively promote reducing the labor cost and having a lights-off system that can work with minimum human action.

The Economist published an article about 3d printing factories and novel production processes:

Update (10.08.2017.):

3D printing service provider Forecast 3D has announced the opening of a new 3D Manufacturing Center for full-run, large-scale production using HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology. The 21,000-square foot facility features 12 HP Jet Fusion 4200 3D printers and opened in July 2017 at the company’s Carlsbad, California, headquarters.

With this center, Forecast 3D says it now offers a full-process HP 3D printing and manufacturing solution capable of producing more than 600,000 end-use production parts per week.


Update (02.08.2018.):

If you want to see a fully autonomous rocket factory, go check out: