3D printers present a whole new range of opportunities for users and telecommunications companies. They could also completely shape the landscape of factories and shops as we know them today.
They look like basic printers (a bit bigger) and they can produce a 3D object from a digital model of the object by laying down layers after layers of a special material until complete. You can use different materials, ranging from polymers, titanium, or even gold powder.
What could you print? I can think of things such as industrial components (pipes, parts for cars), clothes (e.g. shoes), furniture, jewelry, and why not, chip designs for electronics, and food!! (see this article for a printer that produces sugar objects)
For now they are mostly used to build models for architects and fashion designers, and they are a bit slow, but you can imagine how the technology could improve over the years to come.
I first saw one working last year at the Renacer conference and since then I have been thinking about their possible implications.
How many times you have waited for a product that is out of stock? What if you could just download a detailed digital design of the product and have it printed at home?
At that point, a lot of factories and shops could well disappear! Everything would be intellectual property and data flowing around. We would just spend time thinking and designing, not so much doing hand labor. Finally, human kind would be freed to do what they can do best, thinking. That would be a revolution!
And for Telcos and networking companies that would be a great opportunity too. Imagine how many terabytes of data would need to be shipped from one corner of the world to another to describe with the finest level of detail a given product so that the printer could build it. Huge volumes of data would be flowing from designers directly to user’s homes, and that would need to happen in a timely manner. We would be talking about shipping bits, not physical goods anymore, and Telcos would then become the FedEx of the Internet! Who said that networking was a dead field? J
For more info you can also see this Economist article.