The latest MakerBot product has reminded me of the need to put forward a few of my predictions of the changes 3D Printing will bring to society. The following ideas are based on the premise that 3D Printing will be widely available at low cost in the next few years.
Death to Retail
The internet has already brought dramatic changes to the way people buy things. 3D Printing is going to build upon that by changing we way we think about making things. A desktop 3D Printer means being able to build tools, parts, and fully designed products right from your home. There will be no need for many genres of retail stores to exist.
Imagine working with your child on a Lego project. Unfortunately, when they opened the box, they lost a piece somewhere in the house. Instead of having the project ruined or needing to run out and buy the entire set again, just to replace one part, you can “print” a replacement piece in minutes.
The Role of “Creator”
It will shift from being about production and distribution to being solely about design. The Lego company won’t be selling their sets or pieces in stores. Instead, they will have an online store where people from anywhere in the world can pay for the rights to print a part based on the specs provided by the company.
I have used Lego as a means of explaining a much larger point. Most retail will simply not be needed. 3D Printing is in its infancy but already the long term potential is clear: there is a better path than that of mass production. The internet has always demonstrated the qualities needed for a highly personalized interaction. 3D Printing is offering the ability to take that desire and apply it to the physical world.
Currently, these processes are simple and have limitations on size and many material traits. However, over the course of my life, I expect these methods to be perfected and to change the world. Already, these machines are being used in medicine to create personalized replacement spinal discs and jaw bone replacements. Items so highly complex that it would be impossible to make them any other way. I don’t see any other future than one that is highly dependent on this personalized touch in building the things we use every day.