If you watch the trends there’s been a splash of announcements from 3D printing startups and secured funding, most recently Form1 receiving 6 times its target on Kickstarter. Affordable and home 3D printing has the potential to be possibly the most disruptive manufacturing technology seen in recent years. Right now the ‘affordable’ tag is somewhat dubious but as the initial cost of entry falls to within reasonable mass consumer use and not just for the wealthy early adopter I can see all those small, mass producers of fun trinkets and complete tat disappearing very quickly. Not only that, but established brands that have been household names for generations will go out of business (Hornby, Airfix anyone ?) Like the massive collapse in retail stores recently due to the economic crisis and online demand the entire manufacturing landscape could change forever. And here’s why:
- 3D designs are already circulating via Phisibles on Pirate Bay, it won’t take long before people start selling them on eBay for profit
- 3D objects will quickly follow suit in eBay, ETSY, Moonpig….
- Those clever enough and with business savvy will start to eat away larger manufacturer patches by offering smaller, bespoke services for resellers or ‘print your own design’ for consumers.
- Creativity will suddenly become currency over quantity again
- Affordable printing will mean you can design and build Grandma/ Dad/ their next birthday gift rather than trawl the shops looking for something ‘unique’
- Who needs an expensive designer furniture piece when you can knock one up yourself and be the envy of all your inkjet wielding friends ?
- School homework will be to design and print off an atomic structure/ architecture/ idea and show and tell the following week
- A 3D printed exhibit will be crowned a Turner prize winner
Massive implications indeed!
This raises a lot of copyright issues however. Like the famous Jamie Thomas file sharing case patent holders will be chasing down anyone who trades in either designs or the ‘real’ physical object itself. But that’s not the end of it. There are now examples of people using simple techniques and conductive ink to print circuit boards. With a few extra components from Maplins and your local PC warehouse you could potentially build homemade computer equipment.
What’s next, create your own 3D printer using a 3D printer ?
Only recently is was reported that a collaborative team worked to manufacture an actual AR-15 rifle, printing off respective parts separately for assembly later. This poses a massive problem and security risk for a start but also shows how disruptive this technology can be. “Made in China” will be replaced by “Made in the garage”, with friends banding together to create their own pseudo-assembly line, spreading their designs to a wider community for improvement and further refinement. Homebrew Manufacturing will reign in a few years once this technology matures.
When it does, come by my stall in the front garden and I’ll sell you a freshly printed Lamborghini….literally hot off the press.
A few years ago, the 3D printing business was going through a big P/R blip. Supposedly, with “newer, cheaper machines and better materials” this technology was going to change the world. So I joined a partner that was all excited and we tried to develop software and make models and sell them. It turned out to be very difficult to explain the benefits of the technology. It also turned out to be even harder to make money at it. Very few people appreciated (or actually needed) the models quickly enough and with enough detail to pay the high cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per piece. We tried it in the architecture / building sector.
One comment about “Affordable printing will mean you can design and build Grandma/ Dad/ their next birthday gift …” If HP has not beaten Hallmark in custom printed greeting cards, you are as they say “whistling Dixie”. It is much harder to design a model airplane (I have) or even a nice translucent lamp shade then you imagine. It is even harder to take a 3D scan of someone’s head and get it printed well (as a gift, doing it with your daughter for your parents would really get you brownie points!!!) In the 3D world today we need many more people with skills and even more tools. Not just CAD design tools, but printing and finishing tools. Anyway, that’s my $0.02 about your prediction.
The good news… if you make all these fairly cheep “pro-sumer” 3D machines, eventually the pros that can use them (mechanical engineers, brain surgeons, architects) will have tools they can experiment and get really got at. Then down the line (mechanical assembly technicians, brain diagnostic physicians, builders) will have real physical models and they will be able to change how they work (more accurately, better safety, faster and less mistakes…)
There are also places like Thingiverse (.com) where people share 3d designs for free. they will (at some point) add a ‘payed’ section for those that want to sell their designs. I have a low end 3d printer, and it’s ok for simple prototyping and gifts. the Form1 printer is just too expensive, but has amazing capabilities. one of the biggest limitations currently is that the print areas are rarely more than 6 inches cubed. I’m not why Amis’ prototypes were “hundreds of thousands of dollars per piece”. 3D printing is usually in the ‘tens of dollars’ arena. with larger more complex pieces I can imagine hundreds of dollars, but nothing reaching tens of thousands of dollars unless they were using special materials such as metal. Plastic printing is quick and cheap. There are several 3D house printing technologies out there, but I haven’t seen their results yet.