3D printing via Wired ‘Found – Artifacts from the future’ Dec 2006

One of the scanning hits I am currently on the look out for is the rise of 3D printing. This has been an emerging technology which is well along the adoption curve now, you can get a latte with your printing in Tokyo. The first real image I used of this possible future was in Wired’s Found series in 2006 and is reproduced here. I used this image in my Masters classes and also with clients to ask people about how disruptive they thought this technology could be. This particular technology is one which generates many interesting conversations about urban infrastructure, manufacturing policy and consumption based industries. The world looks quite different when I am choosing the product, buying the raw materials and printing on demand. Already, I can design my own doll via Makies which means I could manage my children’s access to commodified images of women, and I could design a copy my own body to keep them company when I am not around.

There are already 3D printing vending machines in a University in Virginia and plans to build a room full of plastic furniture (thanks to Emerging Futures). What is interesting to me is how this emerging technology intersects with the values shift to collaborative consumption, the movement from ownership to stewardship. FujiFilm is gauging the reaction to the idea of introducing 3D printing kiosks for personalized gifts.

“What we’re suggesting is that utilizing existing infrastructure, instead of just limiting it to photo gifting products, what if we are able to have a number of predetermined models and provide customers with a personalized 3D gift shop,” says Mostyn.

Could the rise of closed loop manufacturing aligned to 3D printing seed new industries in recycling, garbage mining and regional warehousing of raw materials?  Given the link between fossil fuel use and climate change, this is a shift we have to become much better at making do with what we already have access to.

These trends also intersect the internet of things along the way making the rise of internet enabled, home manufactured recycled goods a very interesting industry sector. What do urban areas look like when stuff isn’t being moved around? What do transport systems look like? How is economic confidence measured if we aren’t out buying all the time? What will people do with their need for retail therapy? Under these conditions what has value in terms of work and skills? What will we buy when we have choice over how it looks, how it fits and the materials it is made from?

Are you considering the future impacts of these issues in your planning? How do you have conversations about these things in your executive team?

Postscript Aug 2012

I have come across a couple of additional 3D printing applications which shows how broad the range of applications might be once this technology takes off. Prof Lee Cronin is developing technology that eventually could allow people to print pharmaceuticals at home. This brings to mind copyright, abuse, quality and control issues for authorities, not to mention a huge swipe at the war on drugs – what if anyone can print their own illicit drugs? For the end user, this might make a number of expensive drugs within reach. How about a world where drugs are matched to your needs and a printing instruction is sent out to your home printer – all of a sudden there is no need for large scale manufacturing and logistics. I imagine pharmacies might still exist for that personal touch.

In the shorter term, his team is looking at ways in which relatively simple drugs – ibuprofen is the example they are using – might be successfully produced in their 3D printer or portable “chemputer”. If that principle can be established, then the possibilities suddenly seem endless. “Imagine your printer like a refrigerator that is full of all the ingredients you might require to make any dish in Jamie Oliver’s new book,” Cronin says. “Jamie has made all those recipes in his own kitchen and validated them. If you apply that idea to making drugs, you have all your ingredients and you follow a recipe that a drug company gives you. They will have validated that recipe in their lab. And when you have downloaded it and enabled the printer to read the software it will work. The value is in the recipe, not in the manufacture. It is an app, essentially.”

At the other end of the spectrum, how about a machine that prints out a burrito for you? Reminds me a bit of the pie maker craze that I was swept up into about 15 years ago!

Burritob0t is the creation of Marko Manriquez, a designer who studied atNYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Before you get your hopes up too high (like I did), the machines doesn’t actually produce the tortillas. Rather, it does what all 3D printers do: It adds layer upon layer of material onto a base (the tortilla). Instead of liquid plastic, the Burritob0t squirts out melted cheese, beans, salsa, guacamole and sour cream, in amounts set by the user on iPhone or iPad app.

Here are some 3D printed shoes – only $900 a pair!