As someone who has spent his career developing a deep knowledge of manufacturing and software, I’m rapidly becoming a major “fan” of 3D printing. The technology offers exciting possibilities that can radically change multiple industries including manufacturing. According to Industry Week, “a survey by the global consultancy PwC found that 67% of manufacturers are adopting 3-D printing in some way, most frequently in prototyping.” At the same time, ubiquitous 3D printing introduces new complexities around intellectual property ownership, counterfeiting and diversion issues that we’ve yet to fully confront.

3D printing has the potential to globally disrupt multiple industrial processes and supply chains. In the case of manufacturing on an assembly line, parts or products can be created through 3D printing on-site, potentially eliminating the need for separate parts suppliers. Take a look at how one leading industrial company, GE Aviation, is leveraging additive manufacturing in the video below.

Because 3D printing tightly marries electronic part representation and the physical production of a part, it stands to leave its mark in both the manufacturing and digital worlds. This conjoined ecosphere, that is only now developing, will most certainly intersect with Cisco’s current and future products and services. So, how will this unfold and what technology considerations will come into play?


The digital security of today focuses on protecting the storage and transmission of electronic information. Personal identities, financial records and digital intellectual property are all part of this realm. With the introduction of 3D printing, security takes on a completely new dimension. For the first time there is a direct link between the digital world and physicality. Suddenly, we are faced not with just protecting records and identities, but with protecting against the design and manufacturing of things that can do actual harm. At least one public domain handgun design already exists. This new linkage is already forcing CAD software manufacturers and 3D printing companies to contemplate solutions. It is a certainty that, as 3D printing continues its advance, network security and encryption providers will have to be part of both the problem and the solution.

Beyond the issues of physical security, a completely separate discussion is already taking place around protection of intellectual property, distribution, licensing and payment.

Virtualization/Unified Computing Systems (UCS)

Today, if you are shopping for a new desk lamp, the consumer is limited to what is available in either the retail or digital marketplace. Soon, however, you will have a third option. You will be offered the opportunity to take the design of a lamp that is “close” to your ideal design, modify it and produce the final, fully-customized product. As tools for consumer product design find their way to the marketplace, some level of virtualization will be needed and required. How will this be integrated into current collaboration environments? Virtualization will also be driven as a function of consumers wishing to collaborate on the design of a product.


With the advent of consumer-customized products, a new level of collaboration will arise. Children will design toys, adults will decorate their homes and the production of replacement parts will begin a movement towards production at the point of consumption (think new brake pads printed at your dealership). All of this will demand the creation of new collaboration models. Designers will directly work with consumers and designers will come together to work in completely new ways.

Autocad, the software used to design 3D parts, has relatively immature collaboration models though. For example, popular social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube do not currently utilize autocad software, but are likely to in the future. While these social media sites have accelerated the development, collaboration on and publishing of written and video content, they are uniquely lacking, at least for the moment, features to facilitate 3D design and printing.

As 3D printing becomes more mainstream, manufacturers will have to adapt and respond accordingly. Cisco will help drive the adoption and advancement of the underlying technology of 3D printing by offering a number of key solutions around the elements of industrial security, virtualization and collaboration. To find out more information on how Cisco can help your organization, visit www.cisco.com/go/connectedfactory and be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Greg McCarthy

No Longer at Cisco