My son and I were talking the other day about how cool it would be if you could go online and order a combo meal and have it arrive in your desktop tele-transportation machine within just a few minutes. Or how about doing the same thing with other products you order online like spare parts, toys or even bicycles?
While there are advances in technologies every day that bring incremental changes to various industries, rarely does something huge come along that is a total game changer. No, tele-transportation isn’t a reality yet, but 3-D printing is and chances are it’s going to revolutionize the world in the next few decades just as the Internet did less than two decades ago.
The technology has been around for close to 30 years, but is just now gaining ground in a variety of industries as costs for these printers are dropping dramatically. Imagine being able to order a spare part for a product you own that is no longer available. The file is sent to a 3-D printer close to your home that can make that part within just a few hours. You pick it up, install it and you’re back in business again. Or how about creating a custom bicycle online, the file goes to your local bike shop with a specialized 3-D printer and the next day you pick up the bike and ride it home.
These printers create products from materials layer by layer based on the instructions supplied in a computer-aided-design or CAD file. Plastics, metals and other materials are used and when complete, a fully functioning product is ready to use. It’s hard to imagine this process without seeing it and here’s a video from the TED website that gives a good overview of the process:
3-D printers are now creating completely customized prosthetics based on the specifics of a person’s needs along with artificial teeth (while you wait) and bone grafts and 3-D printers are being developed that can lay down cells to create artificial organs like kidneys along with the blood vessels needed for those organ to function. And The French Culinary Institute has been using a 3-D printer developed at Cornell University to make artistic delicacies that rival the creative talents of top chefs.
Chances are we won’t have a 3-D printer in our homes anytime soon, but it already is transforming certain industries where the cost to create one part or product on a 3-D printer is roughly the same as it would be to create a million of them. The military can create one-off parts on demand for equipment in the field and perhaps 3-D printers could be onboard space ships in the future in case spare parts are needed millions of miles from Earth.
Creating prototypes of new products is happening using these printers and the design can be changed quickly and inexpensively by inventors. Simple things like jewelry can be custom made to your exact specifications using this technology not to mention EADS, the company that makes Airbus planes is working on printing the entire wing of an aircraft on 3-D printers.
Just as the Internet has slowly woven its way into our lives over the last few decades so too is 3-D printing beginning to make inroads in areas we can only imagine. Entire industries will be created using this technology and sadly other industries will be diminished or go away completely, but that’s a business paradigm that’s been occurring for thousands of years.
Perhaps the bigger question 10 or 20 years down the road will be, “would you like cheese on your 3-D printed hamburger?”
I work with my customers to evaluate their promotional marketing needs and develop creative and measurable solutions based on those needs. I build long-term relationships to become a trusted advisor my clients turn to for their brand extension, promotional product, incentive and other branding needs. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org