Many of us are worried about manufacturing here in the US, seeing many of the mass production jobs leaving and moving overseas to lower cost countries. But what if manufacturing itself were to be transformed from goods being made in a factory employing hundreds or thousands to goods being manufactured in your home?
Rapid prototyping systems in use today maybe a harbinger of the future of manufacturing. Today rapid prototyping systems can make solid three-dimensional models of CAD drawings residing in a computer. While the various technologies for RPS differ from each other, they all have one thing in common: they can create almost any part that can be designed on a computer. In some cases they can make parts no machine shop could hope to make due to the interior structures impossible to machine.
In effect, future RPS technologies could be “factories in a box”, making most of the things we need on the spot. Larger products would still require a more traditional factory-like facility, but even they would use RPS technologies to make their products.
While the materials used in rapid prototyping systems today (primarily plastics) aren't tough enough to take the punishment many of the things we use are subjected to every day, that could change as RPS technology evolves.
Who knows, the day of the Star Trek replicator might not be all that far off.