3D Print - The Third Industrial Revolution

2014-03-27 12.46.45
2014-03-27 12.46.45

This post in Danish for Mandag Morgen
3D Printing on Tech and The City

If you only wish for one gadget this year, perhaps the time has come to go for the ultimate machine - a 3D printer. 3D printers that can "print" physical objects and materials in various materials, do no longer belong to distant future. The future is the here, and only your imagination limits the possibilities for consumers and businesses. You can now buy a 3D printer from approx. $350 and up, depending on whether it is a hobby, or you will use your printer for series production. 3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing, because the shape is printed layer by layer, making it possible to produce far more complex shapes than if you were to mold a lump of material. A chain is no longer as strong as the weakest link, because there are not necessary any joints in 3D printing, where the design can be printed assembled. You can use a variety of materials, from plastic, metal and clay to organic materials that can be used to produce organs. The only step missing in the reproduction of organs, is the last step that makes it possible to transplant them. As soon as we can mass produce organs such as kidneys, it will be possible to save many lives.

A democratic innovation tool As a consumer, you can even produce jewelry, toys or prosthesis. And if you cannot design them, you can purchase a scanner that copies what ever you put in front of it. Most people have experience that they miss a simple part to the camera or the coffee machine. Instead of  having to pay an overprice for a tiny replacement and the freight to get the indispensable gizmo delivered, Canon or Tefal instead sends you the design so you can print it yourself. And should there be an heirloom you would like to share with the family, it can be copied in many different materials.

MakerBot is one of the world 's leading manufacturers of 3D printers and also has retail outlets spread across the United States. My local Makerbot store is located in Soho in New York where I can buy printers and so-called filament, similar to the ink cartridge in a regular printer. If you don't want to buy your own printer, you can make your own design and have it printed in their store. MakerBot also leads a movement they call MakerBot Academy, with a mission to get 3D printing into the education system in the United States for the production of learning tools. They also have a creative community that is called Thingiverse where users can share their designs so that other users can download the good ideas and print them.

The last time we saw a similar democratization of innovation was when the World Wide Web was born and made it possible for anyone that could code to create tomorrow's businesses. It was the revolution that made it possible for students like Mark Zuckerberg to found an empire that now includes over one billion people in his virtual nation - Facebook. Now it is not only virtual code that can create radical innovation in the world, it is also physical products - so anyone who gets a good idea can create it, print it and sell it. The 3D print community Shapeways makes it possible to buy 3D print designs made by people around the world. So if you need a new pair of glasses or some kitchen equipment, it can be purchased there and then Shapeways prints and sends you the goods. App are also being developed where designers gives you a number of basic design, allowing you to put together your own unique shapes.

A New Business Platform There are already many players in the market, Danish Blueprint is one of them. Companies around the world, hereunder some great Danes like Lego and Novo are exploring how they can use 3D printing as the infrastructure of their business in the future. The technology is developing rapidly as well as the commercial opportunities. So some of the problems we encounter today may soon be solved - including design and the use of CAD software. People often find it difficult to imagine abstract thoughts, therefore the artifact plays an essential role for humans. With a 3D printer you can easily and inexpensively create prototypes and test the market before mass producing products.

Everything we know from the world of software can now be replicated into physical production, so you can easily work with iterations and beta products before making a final launch. When the border between the manufacturer and the customer is becoming blurred, it also poses new requirements for the retail industry, that must follow and understand the technological development. If you can get the goods produced in your own home, it challenges the traditional business processes, where we go into the store, or online, and buy a product that has been defined and mass produced in advance.

In the 3D print era can we get products that are tailored to our individual needs, goals and taste. Once again the technological development forces companies to rethink their business. In a future where production is carried out by the customer there will be great opportunities for user involvement. Companies should assess whether their business in future will be a platform where their products can be shared as software, allowing their customers customization and printing at home. Many companies are already thinking along these lines, including Nike, which allows you to design your own shoes, or Motorola, which lets you design your phone. It makes even analog products scalable , because if you can supply the design directly to the consumer that takes care of the rest, the company can focus on being a service platform, where the customer becomes the business.