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MakerBot may call 3D printing the foundation for the next industrial revolution, but the founder of the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer isn’t so convinced.
“3D printing is a gimmick. If it really is that good, then I’ll write my surname ‘Gou’ backwards,” Foxconn president Terry Gou told Taiwan media on Monday, dismissing a recent report in the Economist.
According to Gou, while companies like Foxconn have been using 3D printing for prototyping for years, the technology’s potential to disrupt the world of traditional manufacturing has been vastly overstated.
And he’s largely right — at least if you’re Foxconn and making complicated devices like the iPhone. One of the larger problems with 3D printing is that there’s still no viable way to print in multiple materials simultaneously. This means that while you can in theory print, say, the chassis for an iPhone, you won’t have much luck printing the device’s countless internal components. (This, however, will certainly get better with time.)
Then there’s the speed problem. 3D printing is slow, and even the most advanced printers still take hours to manufacture relatively simple objects. For a manufacturing company like Foxconn, which is all about ironing out the kinks of inefficiently, that’s a recipe for disaster.
So, yes, 3D printing is a bad fit for Foxconn — but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad fit for everyone. One of the technology’s more promising traits is its ability to offer people customized versions of mass-manufactured products like phone cases and cups. 3D printers free manufacturers from the demands of one-size-fits-all manufacturing, which is why it’s got so many fashion and toy companies interested.
3D printing may be something of a gimmick now, but something tells me Gou will be surprised at how fast that changes.