Today I am heading to Washington DC together with an impressive
collection of the who-is-who in the 3D printing industry in the US.
Shapeways is – amongst others – joined by Makerbot, 3D Systems,
Fab@Home and Makergear for the Public Knowledge 3D/DC convention.
The Public Knowledge 3D/DC convention is organized to give US policymakers a peak inside the 3D printing
revolution which starts to happen. In the book “Where Good Ideas
Comes From” Steven Johnson makes a great case that any disruptive
technology revolution takes about 2 decades to go from invention to
mainstream. 3D printing has been around for quite some years and we
are well into the second decade. You could argue that this
disruption is of a bigger scale than for instance HD television or
the fax machine and it will take more time. I think we just past the
‘second decade’. The next decade has the potential to change the
world on a scale of which we have not seen since the internet going
mainstream in the late nineties. It makes me wonder if we will get a
3D printing / making bubble similar to the dot-com bubble?
Any major technology disruption comes with pain because business
models change and existing businesses need to adapt. Incumbent
industries unwilling to change will resist. Just look what happened
to the music and media industry and the advent of the internet, mp3
and ipods. The same will apply to 3D printing. Just imagine people
copying, extending or modifying existing products to make them
better or last longer. Are you allowed to reverse-engineer your car
engine and improve parts of the engine? And what about giving the
design to a friend? Or maybe start selling it (at cost) at the auto
club? Or maybe offer it for sale commercially?
Putting the negative aspects aside 3D printing brings enormous
potential. It allows to bring manufacturing back to the Western
world. The trend to move manufacturing to low cost countries can be
reversed. It does not make sense to custom build 3D printed products
in China and ship them over on a slow boat. It can happen right here
and preferably close to the customer. Operating 3D printers is
relatively easy and do not require a lot of manual labor compared to
the output of these machines. Just imagine major manufacturing hubs
in big cities like New York, London and Berlin. It will create jobs
and creates knowledge which we lost.
3D printing also brings a new set of options for creative people. No
longer are creatives bound by the digital domain or their own
craftsmanship on analog tools. 3D printing makes it possible to
directly from digital design to analog forms without manual
intervention. Just take a look on Shapeways what artists like
Nervous Systems are already creating.
It also shortens the product design cycle since products can be
created and produced in one-off production runs. Designs can be
adapted and retested in matter of days. It allows for design to be
changed during its life cycle without much effort. Entrepreneurs can
go from an idea or invention to something they can show investors in
a very short time. Production can start in a moment’s notice and
product can be shipped to customers. In this way 3D printing will
give a huge boost to entrepreneurship in a similar way the internet
and open source software has done. It just does not take huge
investments, long lead times and significant risk taking to bring a
new product to the market. A great example is the Glif,
which was prototyped and launched using Shapeways.
Governments of the Western world should realize there are great
opportunities in advancement and commoditization of 3D printing. It
bring back manufacturing and will promote creativity and
entrepreneurship. Making will again be a craft and not a mechanical
and highly optimized mass production process. And 3D printing will
make this possible.
And yes I am going to wear a business suit.