Emerging Platforms

Why Buy When You Can Print?

Posted by Nicola Smith on June 12th, 2012 at 8:23 am

Where would we be if Gutenberg had not combined paper, ink, the screw press and movable type to bring us the printing press?  Well, I wouldn’t have a stack of magazines sitting on my desk. More importantly, we wouldn’t have the foundation for the mass distribution of information that we have today.  In other words, the true innovation driven by the printing press is the democratization of written communication. What’s more amazing is that we’re facing another revolutionary shift right now.

This revolution doesn’t have to do with the development of written content or information, but rather the physical production of products.  What I’m referring to is 3D printing technology. It’s a wave of innovation that’s about to hit us – and the industries we support – like a Muhammad Ali knockout punch to the jaw.

For those who aren’t familiar with the technology, 3D printers allow a user to manufacture or build an actual, workable item or product (including kinetic functionality) layer by layer, similar to the way that ink printers create an image on a piece of paper.

3D printing is often called additive manufacturing, and its real strength is that it’s much less reliant upon economies of scale, allowing for more product customization without the additional cost or risk.

The technology is already being utilized to manufacture a number of different types of products, including jewelry, car parts, customizable mobile devices and even medical implants.  And it’s rapidly being tested in other markets.

So what does it mean for product-based brands like Nokia and large retailers like The Home Depot? People will soon be able to “print” a customized device or a tool/part that would include specific, selected features and functionality right in their own homes.  It means that these brands had better come up with a new revenue model focused on facilitating this behavior as opposed to resisting it, or they will meet the same end as the dodo, the rotary telephone and Polaroid. I’m talking extinction, baby.

And if you think the application of 3D printing technology stops at prosthetic legs and customized cellphones, I would ask that you stretch your imagination a little further. Imagine a future where extensive space exploration is, in part, made possible by the use of 3D printing. Because the last thing you want to do if you're living on Mars is travel back to earth every time you need a hammer or a screw. In a 100 years, we may look back and realize that 3D printing was the catalyst for an unparalleled explosion of human creation and innovation, not just here on earth but throughout the known universe. Watch this space.

http://www.vimeo.com/28045655

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