Our future will be printed in our basements (in 3D!)
I am a techno nerd. No, I’m not an early adopter of every blinky-light-adorned object out there, but I love knowing about them. I’ve as a result followed the 3D printing movement, founded on affordable machines like the Makerbot that allow people to print objects out of plastics and other composite materials from printers in their own home. It costs around $2000 and prints objects in various types of plastic. There are other machines you can build yourself which are cheaper. Point is, it’s out there and one day will probably be ready for prime time.
Most people in this field can foresee the day when this tech is ordinary enough to have in your own home. It will cost little enough that an average household could afford one if so inclined. Imagine going to the computer, firing up your CAD software, Blender, etc, and designing your own dinnerware, then printing out a set for your cupboard. Cool? Yes! But what else could we do with this technology?
One guy has already gone there, seeking to push the boundaries. He’s founded a company called DefCAD and is printing out gun parts on his machine. Yes, that’s right. First, let me say this: this is not a Second Amendment gun-rights post. The gun rights issue has no bearing on the point I’m trying to make, so don’t read on in trepidation wondering what I’m going to tell you to do about it. I’m not going to tell you what to think about it, so don’t worry! My opinion is no more valid than yours, so I’ll never push my own beliefs on you, I promise! In any case, this guy was featured on the video here, where he’s printed out the lower receiver for the most popular style of military-looking rifle, the AR-15. The lower receiver contains the grip, trigger, and the magazine well where the ammo goes. He’s also producing high capacity magazines from CAD drawings as well.
Here’s the point he’s trying to make: if it’s illegal to buy these items, is it illegal for him to make them himself for personal use? He designed and printed these objects himself, with collaboration from others on the website he hosts. He’s looking for attention, obviously, but he’s also opened up a vision of the world we will see soon.
My point is this: it looks to me like the future will be crowdsourced. Imagine a world where you want new rims for your car. You go to a website that hosts designs. You look at the designs people have made and uploaded for sale or free download. You grab the file, toss it into your 3D printer (that can’t do advanced materials or metal yet, but it’s only a matter of time), and the next morning you have a new set of rims for your car.
What about cars? There is a strong kit-car market today, but take that to the next level. Imagine a company that would furnish a rolling chassis, with attachment points for structures, optional arrangements for seats, doors and a safety cage, etc. You then go to the car-building website. You can design your own front end, bumper, hood, etc. It’s all being done today, just by high end specialty shops. Someday it will be affordable enough that anyone could buy a rolling chassis and then print out the parts in whatever style and color they want and build a completely custom, self-designed car. Would that not be the coolest thing since Henry Ford’s Model T?
There are entire industries that might go out of business, because while things will need to be designed and tested, the manufacturing and sale is where companies make the cash. I could see a sales structure in which companies like Ford, Kitchenaid, Hoover, Lego, etc, will sell the rights to a certain product, enabling you to print them on your own machine at home. It’s like pay-per-view movies. Plenty of people never go to a video store; they just pay for the right to watch the movie at home.
Maybe that’s what will happen. You want a new car, and don’t want to go through the trouble or uncertainty of building your own, so you go to Ford’s website. You select your model, pay the licensing fee, and download a one-time-use file that allows you to print out your own brand new Mustang GT500. People will establish self-design websites where crowdsourced designs would be downloaded and printed for everything from cellphones to new computers. Everyone with an eye for design and talent would have the chance to show off their stuff, not just a few players in each market segment. Manufacturing wouldn’t all be done overseas, and an entirely new industry would emerge to supply these printers with all the raw materials they’d need. Yes, it’s a stretch, but as I said, the tech is here; we’re on the very leading edge of a technology that will take years and years to reach maturity.
Just imagine what you would print if you could. And, as food for thought, think about what rules the government should have regarding things you make in your own home, and what rights you’d want guaranteed if they started writing new laws.