3D Printing: What are the signals?

Morning RegretIn the last two blogposts I have focused on the Here’s What aspect of 3D Printing. While this is interesting, it is of no real value unless we do something with the information. This post shares some of the themes that I see arising as a result of 3D Printing. So what?

There are three themes that I want to focus on: Changing Industries, changing the way things are made, and changing what is made.

1. 3D Printing is Changing Industries

Medicine is one of the most rapid adopters of 3D technology. In the last post, I made reference to a range of ways in which 3D printing was already impacting in this area, including bone implants, prosthetic limbs and orthodontic devices.

The emerging research is in areas such as nano-medicine, pharmaceuticals and even printing of organs. As this area continues to accelerate we will see:

  • The growth of new occupations. What about a nano-doctor, diagnosing your specific needs using technology then handing you on to a nano-pharmacist who will customise the medicine just for you? Or an OPS – an organ printing specialist able to diagnose your individual needs, print an organ tailor-made for your body, and work with the surgical team to ensure that it is a perfect fit.
  • A reduction in waste as medicine is developed just in time. Early identification and prevention of illness will be more normalised – at least for those who can afford it. Over time though costs will diminish and so will the risks.
  • The growth of the digital health movement. Individuals will track their own health continuously and connect to their health providers for regular health audits. This will be like the xero of the health industry – in the cloud, connecting all the professionals needing access, providing the individual with simple language information and affiliating with other apps to create a personalised scoreboard of digital health. The individual will be in charge.

 2. 3D Printing is Changing the way things are made

In its initial stages 3D printing has focused on traditional things being made in new ways.  Useless little ‘give away’ 3D printing demonstrations have proliferated at trade shows.  I still have my tiny small container from one of these shows – I chose that over a printed rabbit! I remember watching it being printed though, and marvelling about this new horizon in printing.

3D printing will change the ‘maker space’, with more access to DIYers wanting to create items from the very small to very large, in their own time and space. Accessibility to prototypes and designs is growing, yet with 3D printing still in its infancy, much of this replicates things that are already in existence. An increasing number of products will use hybrid, or blended manufacturing, ie partly using 3D printing and partly traditional manufacturing techniques. The defence and the automotive industries will make good use of this technology. In the video below, you will see that 3D printing is already allowing makers to collaborate to provide new opportunities for children…

As 3D printing becomes more available, objects on demand will be printed at relatively low cost. Beyond rapid prototyping and toys, 3D printing will become mainstreamed and available to the masses. The development of a 3D gun, capable of being printed in parts and with plans accessible to the public for purchase and assembly has highlighted some interesting dilemmas associated with 3D technology. Ready availability has its dark side, as I’ll talk more about in my final 3D printing post.

I don’t have any doubts that 3D printing will change the world. If you want some more evidence explore nine ways that are already in use.

3. 3D Printing is Changing the what is made

We will see the emergence of new products that were not possible before the advent of 3D printing technology, taking us from transition to transformation. A whole new vocabulary will emerge and we will experience an even greater level of personalisation. Next-gen 3D printing will lead us to create things that, in the past, were the realms of science fiction. Fancy some ‘smart clothes, bandages or toys‘? This is just the beginning – it is exciting and also a little scary.

I think 3D printing will create some challenges for our thinking, as well as leading to new occupations and innovations. In my next, and final, post about 3D printing I will consider the “Now What?” What ripples will 3D printing generate? What will this mean for our leadership of the future? I’m interested in your thoughts.

Image: Rob via Compfight

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