If you want to see Bill Nye get worked up over a juicer, you’ve come to the right place. But he has good reason to be excited; the future shift of manufacture is in motion, and it’s been kicked off by the imagination-capturing phenomenon of 3D printing.
The reason 3D printing is so exciting isn’t necessarily because of itself, but because of all the yet unknown places where it will lead – it has flipped manufacturing on its head. Almost every commercially made object we come into contact with today is a result of subtractive manufacture. As Nye explains, this means we cut something into shape, trimming or forming an object like a sculptor, which means leaving left-over material on the workshop or factory floor. Nye gives an incredible example from NASA’s hermetically sealed aluminum sample boxes that were designed to bring moon rocks back to Earth to study. Rather than being assembled or built up, they were hollowed out from large, solid blocks of aluminum, the center completely wasted. For you and I on a more day-to-day level, the same is true: a t-shirt is made from a larger piece of fabric; a turned table leg churns its surrounding bulk into sawdust. It’s reasonable to think that in as little as 50 or 100 years, people will see our current production methods and waste levels as tragically unsophisticated.
According to Nye, our future has the opposite in store: additive manufacturing. This means using precise quantities of raw materials to build an object up from nothing, with zero waste. Things will be lighter, cheaper, and the entire process of making and creating will be democratized so the whole world can participate and invent. Rather than throwing out a perfectly good juicer because the spout is chipped, we could independently manufacture a new part. That thought makes Bill Nye extremely happy.
In Nye’s forecast of the future, we will have additive manufacture stores or hubs that are stocked with a variety of machines that will download the design of what we need and produce it on the spot. No international freighting, and no resource wastage.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.