A few weeks ago I stumbled across an article in The Economist which was discussing the next industrial revolution - 3D printing. With the first industrial revolution of the textile industry in the 18th century, followed by Henry Ford's mass assembly line production of the 20th century, people are now talking about 3D printing as the third industrial revolution which allows for digital manufacturing with a personal twist.
I initially struggled in understanding the concept and visualizing the technology but digressed to YouTube to find out more. I came across the following video which made everything crystal clear: 3D Printing a Bicycle
Watch at your own leisure.
The merits of the technology are as follows. As consumers become more sophisticated in what they purchase in terms of goods, colour, feel, etc., manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware that producing such bespoke goods for niche markets is cost ineffective, particularly in reference to accessing raw materials and subsequent production costs. The waste issue is a separate matter. With 3D printing you have the ability to digitally print products in smaller batches, allowing for more effective production and marketing.
Perhaps one day we could even end up producing goods within our homes! You may laugh as it seems a little out there but two decades ago, laser printers in the home were almost unheard of and partly construed as a luxury commodity. Fast forward to today and now the majority of us have personal printers. Keep that finger on that forward button and imagine the repercussions 3D printing would have on the retail and shopping centres if this technology became readily available to the average household? We may not necessarily need a shop or online retailing to purchase goods. What the consumer would require would be access to raw materials allowing him to produce / print goods in the comfort of the home.
It's not an imminent picture, but imagine 50 years from now how and what will we be shopping for? Would retailers have to adjust their lines so that they just sold raw materials and in effect become wholesalers? What would be the purpose of shopping centres and what would we use them for?
The 3D printing technology already allows for the production of chocolate. 3D Printing a Chocolate - Tis quite amazing.
All this future gazing stuff seems a bit wild and far fetched, but look what Apple has achieved and where it is heading. Not so funny now, is it?