The 3D Printer: Revolutionizing Production

Poppa could look very different in a few years.

A new digital printing technology could transform the basic study-area and holding room of only sometimes-functional printers, to a veritable science fiction phenomenon.  “2012 will be the year of the 3D printer,” declared Lisa Harouni, CEO of 3D software company, Digital Forming, during her recent TED Talk. If you’re not familiar with the idea, 3D printers are exactly like your office printer, but with an extra dimension.  Through a successive layering of material, the device uses an additive manufacturing technology that can build objects of every shape and size. There have already been 3D-printed kidneys, airplanes, jawbones, jewelry and more.

The machine has been around for the last 30 years, but not until recently has the process been efficient enough for widespread use. Harouni suggests that the technology is “at a tipping point,” where efficiency is high enough and costs are low enough for 3D Printers to finally get out of the science lab and into the market.  She believes consumers all over the world will soon be able to buy their own device for no more than $300. And while initially one might be intimidated by the technical process of the device, new software and other applications have rendered these machines surprisingly accessible for the layman.

Every product has specific dimensions that can be sent to you online. With access to the product’s code, the software allows the user a full range of options surrounding size, color, material, and even shape. As Harouni points out, the software is made to allow as much customization “within the bounds that are safe.” She continues, “Because, obviously, the public are not professional product designers. The software will keep the individual within the bounds of the possible.”  As a result, products you might have gotten from a store like Target may soon be easier to just print.

Having this device out in the marketplace will be a game-changer on a number of levels.  The device eliminates the need for economies of scale, as every printed object has a fixed cost, one that is often less than the regular price.  The ability to create cheap prototypes could significantly bolster creativity and innovation worldwide.  By improving the lag time between an idea and a finished product, any hobbyist’s creation over the weekend can immediately become a product accessible by anyone around the world.

It’s not just Harouni who is bullish on the time-to-market for 3D Printers. The Pirate Bay, an extremely popular media hosting website, recently announced their new category of files you can share on the site called “Physibles.” Just like getting the latest music album online for free, The Pirate Bay is betting you will soon be able to get your next pair of Nike’s in a similar fashion. Once you have the 1s and 0s of a specific product, printing it out is as easy as burning a CD.

It wasn’t too long ago that peer-to-peer file-sharing revolutionized the way we consume media, could the way way we acquire goods be headed down a similar path?  Printers around the country, and in our own Poppa and Ryal, may never be the same.