Futurists often get asked to speculate on a technology that we think will “take off” in the next…..say decade. Having been asked recently, thought I’d share a few thoughts on my candidate – 3D printing. Hardly news to keen observers of emerging technologies (apologies), nonetheless I’ll assume general readers of the blog might find it interesting.
A lot of times as futurist we see changes emerge in one sector or industry and then try to imagine how it will diffuse to others. 3D printing is moving from a design and prototyping tool to a method for producing finished goods, enabling a future where certain types of manufacturing are shifted to regional or local fabbing centers—or even he home. It started in areas like automobile parts, but it’ is moving fast into a wide range of application areas. Right now, for instance, early experiments are proceeding in printing replacement organs (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOnIxcc0DW8)
One of the reasons that 3D printing makes sense is that it enables local production, moving away from the need to produce large batches of products in centralized manufacturing plants and then shipping and distributing. It suggests products could be made locally, where they are needed or wanted.
It reinforces a larger trend toward the “long tail” economy where the emphasis is moving away from producing large batches of the same thing in centralized plants to small, decentralized, and distributed production and consumption. Taking it a step further, a these tools enable a “maker” culture, which is moving beyond the idea of diy (do-it-yourself) product design to diy production, do consumers make their own product, tapping a need for co-creation. Place your bets? Andy Hines