The Great Disruption: Competing and Surviving in the Second Wave of the Industrial Revolution

The Great Disruption: Competing and Surviving in the Second Wave of the Industrial Revolution

by Rick Smith, Mitch Free


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The Great Disruption reveals how 3D printing manufacturing will transform the world in the same way that Henry Ford’s Model T upended transportation or Gutenberg’s printing press started an information revolution. It traces both the impact of this disruption as it rapidly spreads around the world and affects every kind of industry imaginable, while detailing specific steps that can and should be taken right now to prepare.

The 3D manufacturing revolution is pervasive and growing rapidly, and includes such major breakthroughs as:

- A machine in Amsterdam that can 3D print a bridge over a canal underneath it using no support or scaffolding

- A global auto manufacturer designing a car that automatically changes its physical shape and structure in response to current driving conditions

- A scientist in London experimenting with 3D printing material that is two hundred times stronger than steel

- A Harvard researcher who is 3D printing batteries the size of a single grain of sand

- An astronaut who is printing replacement parts in space—and a shipping executive who is doing the same thing on cargo ships

In exploring this radical future, The Great Disruption shows how we can position ourselves to successfully navigate this historic shift to our greatest benefit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250091420
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/11/2016
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

RICK SMITH is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestsellers The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers and The Leap. MITCH FREE is an entrepreneur, digital manufacturing guru, and global trade expert. The two cofounded Fast Radius, an industrial 3D printing company, and are co-founders of the Global Coalition on Additive Manufacturing, bringing together executives to explore the implications of 3D printing and manufacturing for their businesses and industries.

Read an Excerpt

The Great Disruption

Competing and Surviving in the Second Wave of the Industrial Revolution

By Rick Smith, Mitch Free

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Richard A. Smith and David Mitchell Free
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-09142-0



The future ain't what it used to be.


FOR GE, THE ICONIC GLOBAL industrial company founded by Thomas Edison, the Great Disruption began to emerge in late 2013. It came from the most unlikely of messengers: a young man working shoeless in front of twinned computer screens in a cramped room just outside of Jakarta, Indonesia. Arie Kurniawan had recently noticed on an engineering website that GE's aviation division was hosting an "Open Innovation Challenge" to redesign a critical component of an airplane. The competition sounded a bit wonky: The winner would create the best new design for a relatively simple-looking bracket. But this was no ordinary part. The bracket attached directly to an eight-thousand-pound jet engine and was critical in securing the engine to the wing. The part that GE was redesigning, one that had been in use for decades, was heavy and clunky but, as you would expect, incredibly strong and reliable.

It was late at night, and Arie had been working tirelessly on the project. His approach was not just to find improvements to this critical component, but to completely reimagine it. As dawn broke, Arie hit the send button, submitting his entry. He was satisfied with his efforts — as much as any engineer ever is — but he tried to keep his expectations realistic. In fact, he wondered if his submission would ever get more than a cursory glance from the veteran GE engineers on the selection committee.

A few months later, to Arie's complete surprise, General Electric chose his design over nearly a thousand other submissions. But the shock waves from his success spread far beyond his tiny room in Indonesia. First of all, it turned out that Arie had no experience whatsoever with industrial manufacturing — the design and production of large, highly durable machinery. In fact, his only formal design education had come a few years earlier in his provincial town, at a vocational high school with the slogan "Prepare faithful graduates who can compete in the global world." He had spent the last few years designing gloves and computer stands, not high-stress industrial equipment. But his lack of complex manufacturing experience didn't stop him from beating some very tough competition. One submission had come from a Swedish Ph.D. who worked for Saab and General Motors. Another was developed by a British stress engineer at Airbus, the world's largest producer of commercial aircraft.

But that's not all that was surprising about Arie's story. His novel design was enabled by new industrial 3D printing technology. Up until that point, every other engine bracket ever used — like many other of the hundreds of critical pieces that make up a jet — had been produced through conventional manufacturing. These techniques included pouring liquid metal into the hollow center of a mold, or bending and shaping molten ore. Yet the quirky-looking bracket Arie designed in his small office worked perfectly. Printed by General Electric with technology that is still in its early years, the bracket passed every one of the rigorous tests for durability, stress, and reliability.

And it weighed 83 percent less than the part it would replace.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a GE executive named David Joyce walked down a hallway toward a 3D printer. The machine was a refrigerator-sized box accessed by a door that swings open from the side. Inside, lasers were meticulously fusing together metal powder into an industrial-strength object, "printing" it layer by layer. David had spent almost his entire career, more than three decades, working for GE's aviation division. During that time he had tirelessly manipulated engineering designs, chasing incremental improvements in productivity and efficiency. This is tedious, relentless work. Even successes can be measured in the hundredths of a percent.

But that was before 3D printing handed GE a whole new range of tools. Now, his engineers could design components with complicated geometries that were previously impossible to make. These printers can essentially build a physical version of anything that can be imagined on a computer. This includes a huge number of objects that would be impossible to create using any other manufacturing method. 3D printers, for example, can drill the proverbial "curved hole" in a metal block — or print objects that exactly replicate that effect. They can create a seamless hollow steel ball, or one that contains another empty steel ball, which contains another steel ball, and on and on.

Curved holes and spheres within spheres are cool, but they are basically the manufacturing equivalent of party tricks. David's team was manufacturing a sophisticated industrial component with real-world use — and huge implications. The 3D printer stopped, and David peered inside at GE's brand-new fuel-injection nozzle for a jet engine.

The first amazing thing about this new part is simply that it was created as one piece. The previous nozzle had twenty-one separate parts, each of which needed to be produced by parts suppliers, shipped to a central location, and then assembled. Second, it was not created on a noisy factory floor, but in a laboratory that could just as easily have been in Nigeria or on the fifth floor of a Manhattan apartment building.

Its improvements in functionality were also massive. The new fuel-injection system was five times stronger, five times more durable, and 25 percent lighter than the old part. And it increased fuel efficiency by an astonishing 15 percent!

Taken together, these innovations will result in fuel cost savings of over $1 million annually. For every single airplane that uses the new system.

Reports of these two separate events quickly spread around General Electric, all the way to the office of the CEO. Certainly no one expected these parts to have an immediate impact on the company's overall financials, but the implications of these two events were disarmingly clear:

* If a twenty-something with no training in industrial manufacturing could outdesign a leading multinational company stocked with top-flight engineers, what were the implications for the current global workforce?

* If these two critical parts could be redesigned with such massive improvements, what were the possibilities for the company's other tens of millions of parts?

* If twenty-one parts could be produced as one, what did this mean for the future of GE's long-standing parts producers?

* If this new technology allowed manufacturing to be cost effectively reshored to the United States, what could this mean for global supply chains?

But perhaps most importantly, what if these new technologies could be used to redesign not only a few parts, but an entire airplane? Could we envision reducing the entire weight of a plane by 5 percent, 10 percent, even 20 percent? Outcomes like these would not simply result in a financial uplift for companies like GE. It would change the economics of an entire industry! Indeed, it would change every industry.


GE executives aren't the only ones who are quickly beginning to understand what 3D printing will mean for the future. This technology is beginning to transform not just how companies make things, but how they design, ship, and warehouse them. Simultaneously, 3D printing is unleashing a flood of product innovation. The technology's impact even extends to company cultures, creating more collaborative work environments.

All this is possible because of 3D printing's two unique characteristics. First, the technology has an unparalleled capacity for high complexity manufacturing. If it can be created on a digital 3D modeling program, it can be made into a physical object. This is not the case with traditional production tools. Manufacturing GE's new fuel nozzle, for example, would be impossible without 3D printing.

Second, 3D printing enables low-volume, customized manufacturing, something that is also not economically feasible using today's industrial processes. Mass production dominates conventional manufacturing for one reason: It produces objects at very low unit cost. We all reap the benefits of this when we buy incredibly cheap socks or televisions or microwaves. But mass production also has several drawbacks. First, it is only profitable at scale. A company has to make and sell an exceedingly large number of the same product before it makes money. Mass production also requires a large initial investment. Companies will often invest tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions, before they can begin to produce the first of thousands of cheap, identical objects. Finally, mass production leaves no room for variation in the design. You do get cheap tablets. You don't get to customize them.

With 3D printing, all that changes. First of all, the costs of production are not front-weighted. This means that you don't have to make tens of thousands of the same thing before hitting profitability. In fact there are essentially no savings for making lots of identical products. Sure, 3D printed objects cost more per unit than mass-produced ones. But because unit costs are not tied to the number of pieces produced, you are also not penalized for producing in very small quantities. For example, if GE wanted to experiment with engine bracket design, they could print three different designs for roughly the same cost as printing three identical ones.

Bottom line: 3D printing technology is not just an interesting new way of making things. It's more than a paradigm shift in manufacturing. Ultimately, 3D printing technology is the Second Wave of the Industrial Revolution. It stands to sweep away a quarter millennium of manufacturing evolution. That's not a prediction, by the way; it's a pattern.

Think about it: All great technological transformations begin with mass production, whether it's the mass production of books (via Gutenberg's printing press), cars (Henry Ford's assembly line), durable appliances (Westinghouse dishwashers), advanced electronics (iPhones, iPads, etc.), or hundreds of other examples. Mass production creates a material bounty at prices low enough that most people can afford them.

But while cheap mass-produced items are what the masses get, customization is what we really want. There are very basic human reasons for this. First of all, mass-produced items target the average consumer. But none of us believes we are average. Given the chance at the same price, we will always choose something made uniquely for ourselves over something made generically for everyone. Second, customization also enables a full range of applications, which is in itself a powerful recognition of the full complexity of our individual human wants and needs.


Medical researchers and suppliers were among the first to explore the technology's possibilities, and the early results of this innovation are astonishing. 3D technology allows surgeons and researchers to repair and replicate the human body in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago. Again, the key is complexity and customization.

Take knee replacements, a procedure undergone by hundreds of thousands of people every year. Typically, the operation goes something like this. The surgeon slices open your knee and pins back the skin around it. An assistant has a few different sizes of replacements for the diseased or damaged portion of the knee. The surgeon holds the parts up to your knee and picks the best match. Then the surgeon puts the replacement in your knee and makes it fit as precisely as possible. You're sewn up and sent to physical therapy.

This is an approach riddled with problems. No off-the-shelf replacement can fit your body perfectly. The implant's lack of geometrical precision is compounded by the sophisticated role knees play in the body. Knees are your largest joint, are more complex than shoulders, and are weight-bearing. Many replacements are such poor fits that they don't support the body properly or they grind against other parts of the knee and leg. As a result, many patients experience postsurgical pain and more than a few have to go under the knife again, hoping for a better fit.

3D printing offers a new answer to these problems. In this scenario, the surgeon scans your knee and then prints out an exact replica — not the closest fit but a perfect copy of the part being replaced. These 3D printed replacements are inserted just like the pre-sized versions. But the postsurgical experience is significantly better. Patients have shorter hospital recovery periods, less pain, and far better initial movement than with the off-the-shelf replacements.

3D printed replacements for other body parts have had similar successes. Again, the technology creates exact geometrical replacements in sensitive areas cost-effectively. Among them are custom-fit parts of skulls to repair puncture wounds in the head. Additionally, the 3D part can be manufactured with intricate channels, encouraging integration with our bodies. The complex grooves encourage the bone to grow around the 3D printed part. In other cases,

3D printing's capacity for extreme design complexity is creating previously impossible medical supplies. For example, BASF is printing new skin for burn victims instead of relying on grafts from other parts of the body. Before the emergence of 3D printing, manufacturing these medical innovations was either completely impractical or flat out impossible.

In some cases, these made-to-order 3D printed body parts have a further advantage. They are not only cost-effective, but substantially cheaper than traditionally manufactured ones. In 2014, researchers at the University of Central Florida printed a prosthetic for a six-year-old boy born without a right arm below the elbow. His family's medical insurance would not pay for a traditionally manufactured one, which can cost up to $40,000. This is also a recurring expense since the arm will need to be replaced repeatedly over the next decade as the boy's body grows. The 3D printed prosthetic cost only $350.

Amazing, right? But then something even more surprising happened. The researchers put their models online in open-source files with the hope that others would improve on the design. This broke all the rules of traditional manufacturing. No medical supply company would ever make their designs free. A year later, a hobbyist heard about a seven-year-old boy who needed an arm. He wanted to make something the kid would be excited to wear, so he specially designed an arm that looked like the prosthesis used by Star Wars' Luke Skywalker. That designer model was even cheaper, costing just $300. The recipient was presented with his complimentary new arm by a parade of imperial storm troopers and other Star Wars characters.

In just a little over a decade, 3D printing has dramatically improved critical areas of medical care. Future applications are nearly limitless and will improve — or save — the lives of hundreds of millions of patients. True, medicine is in some ways tailor-made for early adoption of 3D printing. The industry has high product development budgets and overall margins, and there's nothing like a new Star Wars–themed prosthetic to bring out the news teams and generate publicity. But the two novel manufacturing characteristics behind these miracles — design freedom and low-to-no-cost customization — are much more broadly applicable. A technology that can print extremely complex, customized products on a massive scale will find a place in any industry.


In the late 1940s, television was beginning to supplant radio as the dominant form of mass entertainment. Hoping to cash in on the medium's popularity, an appliance dealer named John Walsonavich began loading his pickup truck with televisions and driving prospective customers up the steep mountains surrounding Mahanoy City, a town in the eastern coal region of Pennsylvania. At the top, Walsonavich hooked the televisions up to his antenna. This extra boost was the only way to get clear reception of the three Philadelphia network stations. Sometimes he made a sale, but his clientele was strictly limited to people who lived higher up the hillside. Nobody in lower-lying Mahanoy City got reception.

Then one day, frustrated with the constant sales trips, Walsonavich bought a long coil of wire from an army surplus store, connected it to his mountaintop antenna and ran the wire all the way down to his appliance shop. He hooked up the wire to three televisions, one for each network, and placed the sets in the front window of his shop. Television was still new enough that most people in Mahanoy City had never owned or even seen one. Crowds gathered on the street. Soon residents were asking Walsonavich to run the cable to their houses in the town. He charged a flat rate for connection but waived the monthly $2 fee for a year if the subscriber bought a TV from him. Walsonavich had created the world's first cable television network.


Excerpted from The Great Disruption by Rick Smith, Mitch Free. Copyright © 2016 Richard A. Smith and David Mitchell Free. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. Paradigm Plus

2. The Play-Doh Epiphany: A New Way of Making Things

3. The Second Wave

4. Mass Customization

5. Liberating Design

6. The Elastic Manufacturing Cloud

7. The Future in 3D

8. The 3D Printed Organization

9. Threat Multiplie

10. Disruptive Leadership

11. Hack Rod Prints the Fast Lane

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