Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

3-D it to your size

Mom always had trouble finding me pants.

A tall and gangly kid, I didn't grow fat and old until recently. Back then, my legs grew faster than everything else. When Mom found something that would fit my waist, the pants legs would leave, um, too much uncovered down toward the feet. Jeans long enough to cover my ankles inevitably would only cover my ankles because the waist was so big the britches would fall down.

It's not like poor Mom could walk into a store and ask them to custom-print something that would fit.

Well, maybe that's changing. Throughout this decade, 3-D printing (or additive manufacturing, if you will) has made strides in numerous industries, including aerospace, automotive and healthcare. As Mohsen Attaran and Paisley Stidham write in this month's cover story, "The Coming Age of 3-D Printing," decreased costs, technical improvements and an expired patent are giving additive manufacturing a boost. From Ford to food, from intake manifolds to cheese, manufacturers are finding new ways to move 3-D printing from its initial uses in rapid prototyping to producing the components that go into things people will buy.

Printer costs are going down while capabilities are going up. The Front Line reports on a new liquid metal 3-D printer that could further revolutionize the industry. NASA is testing 3-D printing in space (something addressed in the April 2014 cover story of this magazine – then known as Industrial Engineer). The medical industry is custom-printing hearing aids and prosthetics. And on and on.

So in the future, life well may be better for moms and other shoppers.

It's still a far stretch to walk into a store and 3-D print me a pair of pants. But if you had popped in a few decades ago while I was tooling around on a Commodore 64 and said one day I will press a computer button and have consumer goods delivered right to my door, I would have laughed.

So click here. Anything is possible.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IISE. Reach him at mhughes@iise.org or (770) 349-1110.