A Pessimistic Look at the Future of 3D Printing, Not According to the CEO of GE

Sam Jacob has written an opinion piece on Dezeen that has a somewhat pessimistic take on the future of design and 3D printing.  A world where “3D printing will merely bind us even more closely to fewer and fewer corporations” due to an iTunes like DRM controlled ecology with the only alternative being Pirate Bay style sites sharing inferior quality 3d files and bad scans.  

Not content with only one negative scenario, Jacob goes on to imagine another, a world full of half finished, half baked mis-prints of ill thought out designs poorly realized.  Ok, dropping an academic context to frame an overly negative viewpoint may help to give some credibility, but many people with great business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit think otherwise, people like Jeffrey Immelt the chief executive of GE, Carl Bass the CEO of Autodesk, and thousands of people using Shapeways to make and sell their 3D printed products to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Made in the Future : All Products from Shapeways are 3D Printed on Demand

Jacob does have a point when he discusses the division of labor from design;

“There is something undeniably appealing (to designers) in the removal of the production process between the designer and their artifact, a shortening of the distance between their imagination and its physical product. But part of this appeal is that it shifts the value of the object toward the designer rather than the labour of production.”

But this division of design from labor is exactly what makes it possible for a designer to successfully scale their works for financial success, this is not something unique to design for 3D printing, it is typical to design.  The difference now lies in craft, where a craftsperson can create their work using digital fabrication and thereby scale their work just as designers have. Their craft may be in the manipulation of digital tools, voxels and code rather than with hands and physical tools, but is craft just the same.

3D printing is already starting to free us from mass produced, corporate controlled forms of consumerism.  It is relatively early in the growth of a technology and many of us are all still feeling our way to find the best use of the technology, whether it be biological, mechanical, gastronomical or to simply replace current forms of production with a more agile variant.  The important thing is that it is already available for anyone to use with an ever growing breadth and diversity of materials and processes. Thanks to open source projects such as the RepRap and research labs in universities around the world focusing on ways to leverage the technologies in a myriad of ways.  There may be some major players trying to capitalize on the growth of 3D printing but there are also thousands of bright young entrepreneurs who will leverage the technology in areas that are so innovative they will blaze their own trail into the future.

5 comments

  1. Glenn

    As Bill Gates supposedly once said “Why would anyone ever need more than 256k of RAM?” …. not all great minds think great all the time ! I would suggest that Sam Jacob just had one of those moments…

  2. Justin Kelly

    As a designer I’ve also feared seeing my designs consumed by the powers at be.
    Collected and redistribute for all to have and enjoy. HORRIBLE IDEA RIGHT?

    We truly feel that the 3d Printer has already liberated us from a design pipe line that was out of our reach. How they take away our reach in the future is in question.
    Sure Straysys and 3dSystems could Patent troll like Apple does and hope that works for them.
    However that cat is already out of the bag. The tech is here, the firmware is here, it’s ALREADY open source and people have already made it better beyond the patents in question.

    Someone asked me… as a designer how does 3d printing fit for you? Aren’t you afraid everyone is going to do your job leaving you jobless?

    My honest answer for years has been… the common tools that are allowed to the public today are enough to tease them into wanting more. Limitations in quality control, material choices, design alterations, and qty are all things that they are limited on. Initially people will dive in head first… find it is insufficient or doesn’t meet their expectations. Their crudely planned design failed… they seek professionals. Enter me.

    All I see is a sea of people finally realizing the challenges and thus value of my work.

  3. damian0815

    whoa whoa whoa

    First you say:

    “But this division of design from labor is exactly what makes it possible for a designer to successfully scale their works for financial success, this is not something unique to design for 3D printing, it is typical to design. The difference now lies in craft, where a craftsperson can create their work using digital fabrication and thereby scale their work just as designers have. Their craft may be in the manipulation of digital tools, voxels and code rather than with hands and physical tools, but is craft just the same.”

    I’m going to read “scale their work” in the 2nd sentence there to mean “get factories to make it”, otherwise I’m not sure what you mean by “a craftsperson can create their work using digital fabrication and thereby scale their work just as designers have.”

    Then you say

    “3D printing is already starting to free us from mass produced, corporate controlled forms of consumerism.”

    By allowing craftspeople to “scale their works for financial success”? Ie, feed them into the system of mass-produced, corporate controlled forms of consumerism?

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