The End Of Manufacturing?

Who doubts that the future of 3-D printing is that you will soon be able to print with almost any substance that can be turned into a spray?  Or better yet, the drive for new compounds and materials will harbour an explosion in stronger-than-metal fibres that will negate the need for high temperature processing?

Obviously this is many years off, but you can already produce some of the crappy little plastic nick-knacks that tourists pay squillions for every year in a 3-D printer you can buy for less than £1,000 and put on your office desk. The price of these printers goes down as the quality goes up (very similar to Moore’s Law on transistors), so it’s fair to say that, like computers, they will become just as mainstream and widespread as any other home computing device.

So why this blog?  I was just sitting here, on a gorgeous Autumn day, in the house in front of my computer (like you do), when I  took a look at everything within my reach to see where it was made.  I’m sure you can guess; anything small plastic and disposable was made in China.  My next though was; what happens to all of those people whose livelihood revolves around making cheap, plastic, disposable, and in no way useful crap, when I can print equally useless crap at home?

Then I thought of a scenario; I see a guy in a far away airport rushing for a plane to get home to his family.  It suddenly occurs to him that he has not bought anything for his for his 2 little children – that’s why it’s a ‘him’ in my story BTW, women are far less stupid – and he has no time to buy something. So, he takes out his smartphone and takes a picture of a generic toy for the country he’s in, processes it through a scanning app, and sends the results to his printer sitting at home in his office.

By the time he gets home, there’s two, identical but for the colour, cheap, plastic, disposable, and in no way useful, pieces of crap sitting on his desk. Great for Daddy, bad for shopkeeper in far away airport, and VERY bad for family scraping by on the income the receive from making the cheap …you get the point.

I have no solution for this, in case you’re wondering, I LOVE the thought of what we’ll be able to do 5 – 10 years from now, nor do I have it in me to do anything more than write a stream-of-consciousness blog on something I read while browsing Wired articles.

I understand that technology, innovation, and the sheer inventiveness of the human race means that things change, and they change quicker every year, and that if you’re not ahead of the wave you will get left behind and potentially suffer.  But I can’t help wonder if this is not a perfect time for concepts such as corporate social responsibility to make their way off the marketing fluff, and into a demonstrable service provided by the leaders in the future trends.

Maybe I just ate a bad bagel…


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