Thursday, 1 August 2013

3D Printing is the Future. 3D Printing isn’t the Future.

Really excited by 3D printing. It’s the start of the 3rd Industrial Revolution. Now, if only I had a good idea to print. #Technogeekery

I’m really excited by 3D printing. I love the idea that anyone can make anything at home (as long as it’s made out of brittle plastic or chocolate). I’m excited that Maplin could be selling a 3D printer on the high street soon (even if it is £700 and requires 10 hours of self-assembly). Amazon has a 3D printer section with over 1,300 items. There’s even scientific research with actual numbers to prove to my wife how a 3D printer will save us money (at least $312 out of our spoon holder budget). 3D printing has gone from expensive scientific to expensive geek. However, I think we’re a little still short of making 3D printing useful to society.

We’re completing a second Industrial Revolution and about to start a third. The second industrial revolution saw the birth of a viable online economy, with digital products and services having real value to consumers. In the impending third industrial revolution, the consumers will also be creators, and online stores won’t be as important as product enablers. The future marketplace will buy and sell ideas, patterns, and designs.

The third industrial revolution will be about lowering the cost and expertise barrier to making real stuff, but using cheap digital creation tools. Self-published books, self-mastered CDs, self-designed 3D models – the imagination of others is limitless. I’ll want my online stores to turn my digital ideas into physical reality, and to curate the online world so that I don’t have to navigate the digital cacophony. There’ll always be room for pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap retailers. However, for those purchases that require thought, not just need, I won’t want His Master’s Voice any more, I’ll want My Own Voice.

However, I don’t think we’re quite at the point where we can just walk over to a replicator and ask for a cup of Earl Grey, hot, and get the same drink every time. We’ll still need manufacturers to turn one-off hyper-customised widgets into thousands for sale in an eBay shop. That’s because it’s unlikely that a domestic 3D printer will be able to make thousands of identical items, let alone in materials that do not melt in the sun. Manufacturers will still need creativity and experience to productionise ideas. And they will be needed to offer volume discounts so that people will want to buy the widget.

It’s very exciting to be able to make anything I want. Now, if only I had a good idea.

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