19/06/2012 04:31 BST | Updated 15/08/2012 06:12 BST

3D Printing: Manufacturing the Next Industrial Revolution

The 3D printing revolution is not something which is happening in the remote and distant future, it's the technology which everyone is talking about right now.

The 3D printing revolution is not something which is happening in the remote and distant future, it's the technology which everyone is talking about right now. Sculpteo were at Next Berlin last month speaking about their 3D printing Cloud Engine which can be integrated into any online business so people can order objects which are individually manufactured according to demand. Transforming the way in which objects are produced could make a serious impact on the manufacturing industry and has the power to shape the next industrial revolution.

Sculpteo App: parametric tableware on-demand from NoDesign on Vimeo.

The clever thing about 3D printing is that it is a way in which to convert the digital world (3D files) into the real world and to make real objects from 3D files. It is now interesting to see how 3D printing is becoming more and more a topic of discussion and making a transition from the digital world into a technology which has the ability to change the way in which objects are manufactured, not just in Europe but worldwide.

The question is: how to generate 3D Files? There are now many free 3D software programs available online such as Google SketchUp or Blender for people who want to play with 3D software, but not everyone knows how to make their own file before obtaining their own object. Thanks to the development of affordable 3D scanners or devices such as the Microsoft Kinect it is now easier than ever to make a digital version of the real world and to convert this into 3D files. Very soon, any SmartPhone will be able to generate 3D files. So generating a 3D file is no longer a problem: the technology is becoming more and more accessible and affordable for everyone, not just tech-savvy geeks. But are we all willing to create our own objects?

Up until now most objects have been mass-manufactured in factories overseas in order to make the production process more efficient and cost-effective, with thousands of products ordered by one company and shipped from one part of the world to the other only to then be distributed locally. But if we consider objects which are manufactured on demand, one by one, will it still be economical to transport goods from production facilities located thousands of miles away from the customer ?

Imagine if it was possible for any e-commerce website which are already used to selling goods to anyone all over the globe according to demand, to then be able to sell any bespoke 3D Printed objects...

At CES in Las Vegas Sculpteo unveiled their 3D Printing Cloud Engine which is made up of two parts: the Sculpteo app and the 'white label' offering for online retailers. Businesses can integrate the Sculpteo service in order to offer customers the opportunity to customize and design their own objects (anything from home ware, jewellery, tools, spare parts...). Sculpteo operates 'behind the scenes' and takes care of the manufacturing and delivery process.

It is no longer necessary to manufacture 20,000 of the same object when you can "print" each one as and when required and each object can be unique and made according to different specifications. Furthermore, objects needs to be produced at an affordable rate in Europe and the US! This also means that 3D printing facilities should be located as close as possible to the end user, to make it more of an environmentally friendly solution and of course to make it economical...

It is now also possible to combine localized production with the use of cloud technology which makes it easier than ever to store 3D files remotely and to send them to be manufactured near where the end-user is located.

3D printing has come a long way since it was first used for rapid prototyping and the ranges of materials which are available are being updated all the time. It is possible to print in plastic, alumide, resin, ceramic and even silver and new materials will soon be available.

Another parallel can be made with the digital world. Today every Smartphone looks the same, but in fact all Smartphones are different, because they all contain personal data. Technologies are always pervasive and now that it is possible to convert data into real objects, there is no reason why objects should not be made to measure.

Not everyone is Michelangelo and wishes to decorate their home with their own artworks. Sculpteo has realised this and created the 3D Printing Cloud Engine so that professional designers can offer a new range of objects to the general public, as it is the ineluctable evolution of the manufacturing process. Sculpteo have launched the first 3D printing app which is also part of their 3D Printing Cloud Engine. It is free to download from the AppStore and is part of Sculpteo's campaign to democratize 3D printing and make it accessible to everyone. On the application, people simply choose whichever model they like from the selection available and customize it either by entering in their personal data, by changing the size and material. Now people can order beautiful and useful bespoke objects, costing from just a few pounds. The question is why should we all use standard size plates and mugs even though we are all different? With this new manufacturing process we can see the development of a new business model for designers where revenues are made from royalties so designers as well as the developers of paid applications earn money.

Once more and more online retailers start integrating 3D printing into their businesses it will be possible to see a real shift not only in the manufacturing industry but also in the everyday objects which we use. 3D printing makes it possible for us to personalize our environment, to be more creative and to have more of an input into the things which we buy. This is what makes 3D printing revolutionary; it is a technology which has longevity and the ability to change the manufacturing industry for good. Will 3D printing start the next industrial revolution? Watch this space...