Make of it what you will

Make of it what you will

Since it moved from the firm grip of professionals-only into the more open-source and the prosumer space, everyone suddenly has lofty predictions for the future of 3D digital printing and its potential effect on consumers.

While every generation has its railways, telephones and computers that transform people’s lives, few have arrived in such a new space and with such anticipation as 3D printing. All of a sudden we mass-manufacturing, post-industrial, brand-worshipping consumers will soon have an opportunity to make anything, anywhere, anyhow, for ourselves.

Or will we?

From industrial man to creative man with 3DPs we now have the facility to make, extend and personalize. At the same time we are lazy and want things literally in the palm of our hands. With more time and tools available, do we do more DIY? No, we want others to DIFM (Do It For Me). Nor, in general, do we work on our cars, repair our failing machines, make our own tools, heat, beverages, snacks, furniture, perfumes, toys…

The more we could, the more we don’t. We may have developed opposable thumbs for making tools but now they text; there is a world of difference between ‘doing’ stuff and ‘making’ stuff.

So will the advent of low cost, mass access level personal 3D printers have unexpected implications on many established ways of making things? Here are three inescapable human truths that might inform us:

  1. We expect things to be local and accessible – here and nowInline Images_01
    –  Consider the retailing revolution whereby big box outlets are increasingly coming under pressure as consumers split their needs between big basket trips (done online) and small baskets in proximity/convenience outlets. Small outlets could reposition themselves to go beyond top up shopping needs and offer local 3DP services.
    – The combination of mobile phones and 3DPs would make it possible to set up low-cost micro manufacturing capabilities in 3rd world locations, leading to local markets developing, new forms of trading and new income streams.Inline Images_02
  2. We have consumer ‘memory’ and expect everything to be always available.
    – Small quantities of single items have been squeezed out by mass production while we could now go back to repairing and extending the life of (prematurely obsolescent) objects that we simply replace to save facing the complexity and cost of having them repaired. What impact could this have on economic models built around frequent repurchase of goods?
  3. We want it  customized (but also want a benefit to the community)Inline Images_03
    – 3DP can make things just for me – a Disney princess doll with my young daughter’s face, my coffee cup designed by me. So, as the creative capacity of consumers gets reawakened after decades of being subdued, consumers will expect from any product they buy something that goes beyond functionality and emotion and social responsibility to also include aspects of individualisation and creative energy.

Now whilst it’s entirely possible that 3DPs may fall flat and soon be forgotten, it’s just as possible that they will have a revolutionary and profound effect on people’s outlook on life and values, expectations and behaviours. An open mind is required for companies to stay at the winning side.