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.