What do Elephant Reproduction, Heavy Industry and 3D Printing Have in Common?

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is momentum building for 3D printing in heavy industry? (Image courtesy of Tom Curtis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

What does heavy industry and pregnant elephants have to do with 3D printing?  We’ll get to that towards the end I think the payoff will be worth it for you.  I subscribe to a number of diverse industrial journals and was surprised to see an article in Foundry Management & Technology about 3D printing of industrial pumps.  Maybe I’m foolish, but to me it was a sign, like grandparents using Facebook or CEO’s switching to iPhones, that 3D printing was really going everywhere.  It’s one thing to have a 3D printer in a college lab, prototype shop, medical, aerospace or electronics business, but it’s another thing when you start seeing them in old school machine shop environments that machine and churn out pieces nondescript pieces of steel equipment.  This is the stuff that makes up the infrastructure of our society, not often seen, but vital to our everyday way of life.

Early in my career I had a chance to partner with a large company on a large project trying to get them to adopt a new technology.  Being part of a small company the pace was frustratingly slow.  One of the senior engineers of “Big Company X”, told me to stay patient and then shared an analogy.  He said that getting a big company to do something new was like an elephant having a baby, it takes a long time sometimes (up to 2 year pregnancy), but you get a big result at the end (elephant babies weigh 250 pounds).  Elephants are so large already it’s often hard for an untrained eye to tell if they’re pregnant from a distance.  My guess is that right now we have lots of pregnant elephants considering 3D printing and it will only be a matter of time before we’ll see some big results.  Just like a train leaving the station it starts slow, but once it gets moving the momentum is tremendous and hard to stop.

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