If you have been spending time on Planet Earth during the last year or so you must have heard that we now have 3D Printing that will soon and forever change the way we live. If you read the articles on the mainstream media you will probably think we have just invented the Star Trek Replicator 1.0 and as soon as 2.0 will come out we will be able to ask Siri for “Tea, Earl Gray Hot” and have it materialized by this incredible thing called 3D Printer in a few seconds…
Well, I have bad news for you, there is no Next Generation (pun intended) 3D Printer model to be released soon that will make you tea. Even if we were able to manipulate matter at the level necessary to materialize tea (and mug) out of thin air the energy requirements are so enormous that for many generations to come traditional tea making will remain the better option (I guess that a Siri enabled kettle will do most of the trick anyway..)
Disappointed? Well, don’t be because this revolution is happening, it will just not be as big as if we could control the creation of matter out of energy at subatomic resolution. What this revolution IS about is the popularization of “Rapid Prototyping”, a quarter century old technology, due to the recent introduction of low cost (read few thousand US$) desktop 3D Printers. These low cost printers are making Rapid Prototyping technology that once was only accessible to companies with deep pockets available to pretty much anybody that can benefit from it. This is in my opinion similar to the car revolution that was the result of the introduction of the Ford Model T. With the Model T the car became affordable to the masses where it was only available to the financially privileged and this changed forever the way we travel: personal mobility became available to anybody that wanted it.
Practically, what will change once we will all have a 3D Printer? I believe so many things will change that this is really hard to predict but I’ll go out on a limb with some examples that I feel very strong about.
It is like holding the object in your hand, literally. How many times you have heard that with the latest and greatest 3D visualization software “it is like holding the object in your hand”? With 3D Printing that is exactly what you will do: you will hold the physical object in your hand and play with it. Anybody that knows about design knows that you should prototype early and often and with 3D Printing it is so easy to build prototypes that you will do just that, on your desktop.
Rapid prototyping will be available to small companies and individual designers. Because of the affordability of the technology 3D Printing will not be just for the Boeing and GM of the world but, for example, architects will be able to print their dioramas to show their customers faster and better than they are doing now.
You will be able to download lots of plastic toys and parts. When I was a kid I loved to assemble plastic models. If you are familiar with them you know that they come as injection molded plastic parts. If you have a 3D Printer you can download the 3D models of these plastic parts and print them yourselves. No need to go to the store. Many toys will be sold as MP3 files (STL to be precise that is the MP3 equivalent for 3D Printers)
Goodbye LEGO? I do not really know if LEGO will be replaced by 3D Printing but you can certainly see that now you can create something quickly with a simple 3D editor like Sketchup and print it. Not only you could download your toys but you can in fact design them and have them materialized right away. What a way to nurture creativity. If I were a Kid I would love that. Oh well… I do not need to be a kid – I love that, period!
So, the 3D Printing revolution is in fact happening and it will be very interesting to see how it will impact all of us. Then, maybe you could brew yourself a nice tea, Earl Gray hot, and think about what you can do with a desktop 3D Printer and let us know.
How do you think affordable 3D Printing will change your future?
Cristiano Sacchi – is the co founder and CEO of Novedge