By Guest Blogger & Ontario Economic Summit Speaker: Ed Burtynsky
The quest for the fabled Northwest Passage inspired nautical explorers, like John Franklin, the innovators of the 19th century, who sought new paths to global trade and economic growth. Today, a new wave of innovators are being inspired by 3D printing, seeking new ways to design and produce anywhere and anytime. How fitting that these new technologies, coupled with leading edge research, have allowed us to link innovators across the centuries, perfectly replicating the bell of the recently recovered HMS Erebus, one of the Franklin Expedition’s two ships.
On October 23 and 24, Ryerson University and Think2Thing, the 3D printing atelier that created the replica of the HMS Erebus’ bell, will be hosting Be3Dimensional, Toronto’s first major conference on 3D imaging and printing. The conference will explore how 3D technology is opening a new world of design, production and advanced manufacturing across a surprisingly broad range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, biomedical, ICT, architecture and design and how it can and should be harnessed by Ontario businesses seeking to compete in the ever-changing global marketplace.
As Ontario manufacturing faces an uncertain future in a world of increasingly globalized and intensely competitive supply chains (e.g., the auto industry), 3D printing has the potential to leverage our province’s competitive advantages. Innovation in the 3D printing space relies on the best in art, engineering and design – all strengths in ample evidence here. When combined with the province’s great university researchers, including those from Ryerson’s Advanced Manufacturing, Design and 3D Printing Lab, advanced innovation ecosystems and skilled manufacturing workforce, Ontario can be at the forefront of this 3D printing revolution.
3D printing has been heralded as the next industrial revolution, enabling businesses to shift from mass production to manufacturing on demand. Given the growing consensus that Ontario’s economy needs to become less reliant on sectors that are at the mercy of global demand cycles, it could well be that 3D printing technology will become Ontario’s 21st century version of the Northwest Passage – opening new opportunities world-wide.
As a fine art photographer, I may be an odd champion of the virtues and potential of 3D printing. Yet in many respects, 3D printing (also known as “additive manufacturing”) is essentially Photography 3.0. From film to digital to three-dimensional form, photography’s capacity to capture moments, objects and places has expanded exponentially, opening up exciting new vistas for the future of this genre.
Yet 3D printing’s potential goes far beyond simply moving photography to the next level. A 2013 study by Deloitte notes that 3D printing could have a greater impact on the world over the next 20 years than all of the innovations of the industrial revolution combined. Already, 3D printing is being used by industrial designers and artists to produce visualizations and prototypes hitherto unimaginable. For example, Boeing has adopted 3D printers for over 200 parts on ten different types of aircraft. NASA has tested 3D printers in space to print tools and spare parts on the International Space Station. In France, a violinist has produced the “3Dvarius”, the first fully playable 3D-printed violin.
Innovation in the 3D printing space is already high on the agenda of many of our trading partners, and ‘3D strategies’ are being developed around the world to accelerate it. In the UK, a National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing, targeted for the beginning of 2016, aims to “maximize business growth and long-term economic value”. In China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recently unveiled a National Plan to develop a robust 3D printing industrial system by 2016. Germany and the United States have also introduced strong support for their 3D printing sectors.
As someone born and raised in St. Catharines, a city that has been hard hit by the decline of Ontario’s manufacturing sector, I have experienced first-hand what happens when regional economies stagnate and innovation comes too late. If anything, the need to innovate is even more pronounced today. As so-called “disruptive innovations” sweep across the competitive landscape, separating winners from losers in their path, the question arises whether Ontario will be a disruptor or early adaptor, or a disrupted, late follower.
A world class 3D printing and imaging ‘cluster’ in Ontario will not happen without a strategy, capital and resources to support entrepreneurship and research in this nascent field. Governments at all levels and the business and academic communities need to understand the enormous impact this new technology will have on the future of design and manufacturing, and work together to ensure Ontario is a leading 3D innovator.
Meanwhile, the 3D replica of the Erebus bell, on display since last January at the Royal Ontario Museum, is a powerful reminder of the spirit of innovation and adventure that inspired Sir John Franklin and his men. Let it ring again to usher in a new age of Ontario design and manufacturing innovation.
Ed Burtynsky is a globally renowned art photographer and Co-Founder of Think2Thing, a Toronto-based 3D printing atelier that specializes in product development, design and engineering.