A 3D Printer On Every Desk Post Covid-19
Microsoft was founded with a vision of a computer on every desk, and in every home. In 1975, this seemed farfetched and unnecessary. Computers at that time were what hobbyists, governments, universities and multi-national corporations used. Today, we cannot do without computers that have taken on a range of form factors.
The idea of 3D printing was first introduced to the world when David E. H. Jones laid out the concept in the New Scientist (3rd of October 1974, Vol 64, page 80). Ten years later a patent was filed, and the slow progress of the 3D printing industry began.
In 1984, the expectation was that 3D printers could be used for rapid prototyping. At that time, computers were slow, software was just developing, and graphic user interfaces had just been introduced in the Apple Macintosh.
Since the advent of 3D printing, we have had various revolutionary technologies that have distracted us. The world wide web, faster computers, digital cameras, mobile and smart phones disrupted business models and have given rise to astronomical levels of creativity and innovation.
The past decade saw 3D printing showing up repeatedly on lists of technologies that was going to make it big. Sadly, the hype was far greater than the results. What we were left with were silent developments followed by intermittent flashes of attention-grabbing stories and then quiet retreat. Some of these headlines talked about faster 3D printers, medical applications and 3D printed buildings.
Then came the pandemic.
We experienced massive supply chain disruptions for essential medical equipment and 3D printers came to the rescue. Companies like HP and Carbon along with their partners repurposed their facilities to meet the demand. Hobbyists downloaded 3D models of face masks and printed them to help their local hospitals. The industry that was coming of age in the sidelines boldly stepped forward and delivered.
This pandemic brings new focus to the 3D printing industry. The technology just moved from being one to watch out for, to one that can be relied upon. Over the next few years, we will see massive investments in the industry and a dramatic reduction in the price of units. Printers will become exceptionally user friendly and will now have the opportunity to join refrigerators, microwaves and washing machines as standard white goods in urban households.
Imagine a world where you can mass produce customized products locally and then change the entire factory floor the next day to manufacture a completely different product. Imagine individuals who own personal 3D Printers leasing out the idle time on their devices (like Airbnb) to a service that sources jobs for them. Once the product is printed, the shipment company collects and delivers it to the end user.
While 3D printers enter households, there will be a rise in the number of 3D printing farms across the globe. Hospitals will have 3D printers that provide customized solutions to patients’ individual needs from prosthetics to false teeth. The maintenance team that visits your home for repairs will have a unit in their van. Online services will sell print-at-home content that can be downloaded. Industrial design will have the freedom to become more complex producing products that cannot be manufactured traditionally. Imagine your car service station never needing to wait for a spare part. When the need arises, they either print it themselves or order it online from a local vendor who delivers it to them in record time.
This revolution is reinventing personalized and mass production. Watch out for innovations from the likes of HP and their Multi-Jet Fusion technology and California based Carbon and their use of Digital Light Synthesis. The use cases are endless and go far beyond making bobble head dolls in shopping malls. The future in which we want to reduce our carbon footprint and ensure less dependence on global supply chains will see sizable developments in this field.
The incredible thing is that everything I have talked about is already being done in pockets around the world. This year and the ones to follow will see:
A new wave of 3D printers that are faster, cheaper and user-friendly
A wider range of materials used by 3D printers
Rapid developments in the 3D printing ecosystem
Acceleration in Manufacturing-as-a-service with collaboration among unlikely partners
Industrial design breaking free from the chains of traditional manufacturing
Redefining of economies of scale and global supply chains
Open-mindedness and business models involving Intellectual Property Licensing
Software and Hardware developments that will enable the unimaginable
3D Printing is now on primetime and this future brings with itself opportunity. I’m going to be bold and say, “One day we will have a 3D printer on every desk.”