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article imageOp-Ed: 3D printing — New ideas, better economics, and the new world rises

By Paul Wallis     May 28, 2013 in Technology
Sydney - The 3D printer may be the Spinning Jenny of the 21st century. From humble and slow beginnings, 3D printing is now a rising monster in real terms. Cheaper printers and much stronger software are breaking through even the thick heads of economics.
There’s going to be a rant element in this. 3D printing is going places conventional manufacturing has never been, already. The ability to scale production is now a working business option. The basics of whole new forms of business and a totally different type of economics are there.
Much more impressively, so is a degree of unparalleled creativity. 3D printing is definitely a matter of skills and talent. CAD and 3D software have unleashed this genie. Never mind 3D guns, start thinking about 3D limbs and the ability to make spares out of thin air, like the US Navy. 3D printed drones are already in the air.
The escape from “plastic only” is another big step. In theory, it’s no longer even a question about what materials can be used. The only question is how, not if. The ability to create precision models and working machines is now merging. Modern CAD can design literally anything. It can do quality controls, experiment and take chances with design that the old style designers simply couldn’t fit in to their lifetimes.
It’s hard to understate the difference this technology could make to the world. Imagine this scenario:
You need new shoes for the kids, want to give them some new toys, you’d like a new car and a special guitar, a new dining room, and you want to scare the pants off your friends by having ten people show up at a party with your face. A normal weekend, in fact. The kids can make it with your home printer, they’ve already filled their rooms with stuff they’ve made in school. The really good news is that this is taking off in primary schools now.
You can print all these things with existing technology. Yes, even a new car, with a current design. (Engine not included, that’s next week’s technology and can run on anything that produces energy.) What’s coming will be even more efficient.
Unleash the designers!
If you’re not in the design business, you may not know how far ahead of technology and current markets design ideas always are. My father was a professional industrial designer/artist. He was always talking about things 20 years before they came on the market.
The trouble was, and still is, to some extent, that the process of design was incredibly lengthy. Commercial designs can be murderous. Design the thing, prototype it, find someone who wants to manufacture and distribute it, it’s a supply chain, not just a profession. Then someone wants to change the color.
3D printing is a designer’s dream. It’s a way of experimenting, exploring, and most importantly, not going broke in the process. Think about that. Every single thing you own has been designed by somebody. Every item in your life has been designed. The new regime means the financial risks are reduced, so designers can take more risks with design. Innovation can hit warp speed.
…And it will. Ironically, the demand is coming from of all places the place it’s supposed to be coming from- Consumers and businesses. Designers can now sell to the world. Businesses want designs that stand out. The fashion industry, in fact, is booming because designers can now produce designs and sell them to the online boutiques at good prices.
This is the next step in the “democratization of business”. It’ll change the world beyond recognition. The scope for creating anything and everything is off the scale. This will be a resource-rich, idea-rich economy, as distinct from mere "supply and demand", in terms of goods and services. It'll also allow a lot more ideas to come to life than the current efforts to force new ideas through the non-existent brains of the most unimaginative business culture in history.
Want to refight Snoopy vs. the Red Baron? Your home printed drone can do it. Expect clubs to show up soon enough, and home-made printed robots soon enough later. Want to stage your own Battle of Midway or bring The Sims to life? It’s doable. Remote controlled ships and understanding parents/neighbors/public parks will take care of everything.
How about space travel? Wanna send your printed something to another planet? Not simple, but not impossible. Anyone who smiles at you is probably an insurer, but never mind that.
Tech, schmech, vectors schmectors
It’s a matter of opinion whether the jargon-addled tech sector will wake up soon enough that complexity is lousy business and worse economics. “You can do this” sells a lot better than “You need 200 experts to scratch your backside” ever will. The fact is that the basic principles are simple enough- Coordinates and switches. Your 3D print is about as difficult to understand as your graphics software. It is, in fact, your graphics software cranked up a few notches, with some extra hardware. If it conks out, you just get your printer serviced.
If you remember the uber-ritual of trying to learn 3D as taught by obsessive experts to people who have no hope of understanding a word, you’ll like 3D printing. Anyone can print on a 3D printer. The skill factor kicks in with need. This is basic. Get this on the market without the mumbo-jumbo, and you've got a new world.
Then, of course, there’s the 3D printed hamburger. Currently selling for an unassuming $300,000 and more or less joined at the hip with “meat factory” technology, aka tissue cultures, imagine doing a full French meal with a 3D printer for about $4.95. It’s coming. Just tack on a heating element, and you could start a restaurant with your own special recipes.
The ultimate, of course, will be printing yourself. Always handy to have a few spares. You may even find a use for yourself- As a new workforce, unpaid, naturally, churning out your fiendish creations. Happy megalomania, humanity.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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