3-D Printing: A New Industrial Revolution?

I have been reading about the potential of 3-D printing here and there, particularly at John Robb’s   Global Guerrillas site. It looked hopeful as a technology vector, but not having a tech background myself, it was harder to envision the parameters of potential application and their possible economic impact.

The following short TED talk by Lisa Harouni I found to be a useful intro for the non-engineer. Much of it is illustrated by specific examples:

My first thought, given the low and descending cost of these devices, coupled with increasing sophistication and power is the boon it will be to small to medium sized manufacturers locked into competition with low-cost foreign producers. Transcontinental transport costs are instantly axed from the price while maintaining quality control (something most Chinese manufacturers, for example, have trouble attaining to level demanded by high end customers). It also revolutionizes the “high end” market for customers demanding unusual or specifically customized products.

The second thought is Harouni’s remark that 3-D printing makes possible devices that could not be manufactured in any other way. That’s an affordable, economically transformative, technology put in the hands of a new generation of “garage tinkerers” – the next Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs are out there, somewhere.

My third thought is, that our present elite, who are deeply vested in a crony capitalist ethos, gatekeeping and policies that create economic stagnation while “locking in” their comparative socioeconomic advantage and power as a political class, will eventually look askance at ordinary people having access to this technology.

When lobbyists from fortune 500 companies or foreign countries(!) begin squealing about losing market share to small-fry manufacturers, expect efforts to create regulatory barriers to market entry with 3-D printing in the same spirit that politicians today want to legislatively “roll back” the disruptive effects of unregulated internet access at the behest of the copyright cartel.

3-D printing technology needs to become as widely dispersed as computing itself, in order that not happen.

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7 comments on this post.
  1. Larry Dunbar:

    “Transcontinental transport costs are instantly axed from the price” 

    *
    According to the charts I saw on price of shipping over-seas, they are almost “axed” anyway.

  2. Larry Dunbar:

    “The second thought is Harouni’s remark that 3-D printing makes possible devices that could not be manufactured in any other way.” I suppose this thought is dependent on if the 3D technology has been “shipped” or not. 3D printing has been around quite along time.

  3. Larry Dunbar:

    “will eventually look askance at ordinary people having access to this technology.” Define “ordinary”.

    *
    …has it been 43 seconds yet? 
     

  4. zen:

    3-D printing has been around for a while. That said, TV came into being in the 1920’s but did not have a societal impact until the advent of national network programming and a mass audience. The Internet began in ’69 and needed thirty years to mature into the WWW and have older enthusiasts stop calling it “the information superhighway”. Mass use means qualitatively different social effects.

  5. Purpleslog:

    When personal 3D printers get down to $800 and below, I expect to see “App Store” by industrial designers for objects/item recipes at $1 to $20 a pop. I can’t fully imagine how the regular world will change, but I have been thinking about it it a lot for the last few days.

  6. David:

    Purpleslog,
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/printrbot/printrbot-your-first-3d-printer
    and
    http://www.thingiverse.com/
    means that the sub $800.00 printer has arrived, and no one will fund this “App Store” because the amateurs have their free version.

  7. Chris:

    I know The Pirate Bay have just launched a section for 3D print designs, which really is a sign of things to come. The conflict over copyright on songs will seem like a mere nothing when people start printing their kids toys without paying a retailer (or Disney) for the privilage.
     
    CES 2012 was agog at the Makerbot Replicator, and to be honest, why wouldnt they be. It costs $1700, has a very substantial print area compared to a lot of other printers, for example David’s Printrbot is quite small. There isnt a single non electronic toy I owned as a child you couldnt print on that.
     
    Its worth reading Makers by Cory Doctorow (its free as an ebook here: http://craphound.com/?cat=5). Basically its a work of fiction about what happens when 3D printing becomes economical. Its a very well through out look at the potential of the technology and its likely impact.