Generally 3D printing – personalized, digital and additive manufacturing – is considered the third (or fourth) industrial revolution, where the first was the mechanical industrial revolution of the 1800’s, the second was Mr Ford’s assembly line and the possible third was that taking place in once developing nations such as China. Now it is already time for another revolution, the “3D printing assembly line,” courtesy of 3D Systems.

The new systems which, incidentally, is exactly the one that has been anticipated – among general skepticism – when Google announced and somewhat detailed the Project Ara modular smartphone partnership with 3DS, is adding the “assembly line factor” to the additive, personalized, digitally controlled manufacturing of its 3D printing systems. It is doing so by introducing a simple concept: static printheads coupled with multiple, moving print plates.

This means the company will be able to achieve many things that up until a couple of days ago seemed to belong in Utopia (and many thought was outright impossible): real high speed, real multi-material, multicolor custom manufacturing. The technology is not in a concept phase, it has already been built and is fully functional. The video below shows 3D Systems’ machine at work, with the mechanical print plates rapidly moving from one printing station to the next.

In fact it seemed a bit odd to me how Google presented Ara as something that was really close to hit the market while being based on an as yet undefined mass additive manufacturing technology. But that’s the nature of business, I guess, as it turns out it was not undefined, it was already being built, it was just being guarded. Google Ara will be its first big step but not, by far, its only application.

During the course of 2013, 3D Systems made some big and somewhat unclear announcements, such as – for example – the partnership in physical photography with Intel, along with a huge number of mass consumer products. To use 3D Systems’ own words, it looks as if they may be “a lot closer than you think”.

 

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