We've been looking at 3-D printing all wrong.

By all accounts, it looks like 3-D printing is changing the manufacturing industry – every day new 3-D printed objects, devices and tools are replacing traditionally crafted parts, in some cases making manufacturing cheaper, faster and easier than ever before.

Today, GE is prepping its engines for 3-D printed fuel nozzles, athletes are running on custom printed cleats, 3-D printed jigs and fixtures are already commonplace on the machines running the shop.

But that's only half of the story, and telling focusing on those products alone misses the real point of the revolution. To Jon Cobb, executive vice president, Corporate Affairs, for 3-D printing giant, Stratasys, it might be missing the revolution itself.jon cobb

"Many people look at end use parts as the nirvana of 3-D printing," Cobb explained at ASME's Advanced Design and Manufacturing Impact Forum in Buffalo last week. "But what's really interesting about 3-D printing is not how it's augmenting the way things are done traditionally. It's the way designers are utilizing 3-D printing as a new paradigm to help design a new kind of object."

It turns out that the important change 3-D printing offers the world isn't just the objects themselves. As Cobb explained, it's not simply a matter of replacing an injection molded part for an printed part; it's throwing out everything we know about part architecture and the limitations of the past and learning to design for 3-D.

The real 3-D printing revolution, he said, is what happens when designers begin mastering the new 3-D tools – all of its shortcomings, advantages and novelties – and making new things as they've never been made before.