What’s The Deal With 3D Printing?
On a now weekly basis we’re seeing an increasing amount of affordable, compact and even foldable 3D printers that you can chuck into a backpack. The news is littered with stories of people building assembled bikes, sex toys, and even functioning firearms.
In our day and age it’s easy to be astonished but difficult to hold our attention. I have apps on my phone which learn more about me than I know about myself, my habits, rituals and even my work address (though I never bothered to learn myself it or input it into my phone). That’s amazing for about 10 seconds… what’s next?
3D printing, is becoming somewhat of a buzzword lately – along with ‘wearable tech’ and ‘gamification’. Companies scramble and scrape the cream of tech offerings for an insight into just where we’ll be in a few years time — but are we as buyers and consumers actually aware of just what 3D printing can mean?
Some of these things may look like crap mechano, but what they do is actually pretty incredible. Using a material, usually plastic, you can tell a 3D printer you need a new button for your shirt, a new drinking mug, a hat, or whatever your heart desires. Provided you have the correct plans you’ll get your wish. In fact, it surprises me that we’ve yet to see one branded as a ‘Genie Machine’ or ‘Fairy ModMother’.
So imagine we’re living in the future: you’ve just made a new mug to take with you to work. You’re pretty impressed because the design you downloaded looks great in real life, and you’ve even personalised it with some tacky personal slogan. But what’s really happened here? That mug you’d probably have bought from China, Vietnam or India is now made in your home, in everyones homes. What’s left for China to make? 3D printing could easily take an enormous bite out of developing countries industry, and it could do it in one fell swoop.
When the US opened trade relations with China, they did so under the impression that if they sold a toothbrush to everyone there they’d become an unassailable industrial nation. Of course, the reverse happened, and China’s fist is clenching closer and closer on the world’s gonads. First world countries had to kick up their education and churn out managers, media moguls, and CEO’s to manage the nouveau outsourced workforces.
If 3D printing really takes off, hardware innovation is going to produce faster, smaller and cheaper machines (which, by the way, will be capable of printing copies of themselves to a certain point). The real money is going to be in software; designs, schematics and coding. Once we breakthrough a certain point there’s going to be a huge branding problem too, nothing’s going to stop people printing their own Nike trainers. Who’s going to stop you printing a superman logo on that mug?
Unless, of course, companies learn how to share. Spotify is a brilliant example – record companies allow users to pay a subscription (and take a portion) to listen to their music. However, this model can’t work for physical objects because there’s simply no way to limit their lifespan without making a shitty product.
The Maker Revoltion is already setting the backdrop to how this is all going to pan out; it’s going to be open source. Pioneers are making the case for an open source world – and I’m ready to jump in feet first. It remains to be seen which countries are going to benefit most from the new design based software industries that are bound to rise, but tech is the great social leveller, and my money’s on Asia.