I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I don’t know how 3-D printing will affect the economy for generations to come.
But what I do know is that it will.
I mean, have you seen 3-D printing lately? These futuristic machines aren’t just churning out little plastic thingamabobs anymore. They’re flexing their robotic muscles in some unexpected industries – like healthcare (particularly stem cell research), food engineering, housing construction, jewelry, and even fashion.
Oh, and, um, skin cells. “Future bioprinters will be loaded with cartridges of living cells,” says Christopher Barnatt, a professional “futurist” and host of this explanatory video. When nature takes over and the layered cells bind together, living organs emerge to replace damaged ones. Already, the ears that biomedical engineers at Cornell create with 3-D printers are “living.”
In addition, the process of 3-D-printing “leather” and “edible meat products” (because doesn’t that sound tasty?) is currently being perfected at Modern Meadow.
Freaky. (And who knows what economic, medical, moral, or political implications this may have on our lives)?
Yet from the shocking to the mundane, the list goes on and on.
While Makerbot 3-D printers are making their debut at companies like NASA, GE, and top architectural firms, the newly affordable technology is already showing up in consumers’ homes. As of last January, 15,000 Makerbot 3-D printers had been sold from the walk-in store in Manhattan for around $2,200 apiece. Individuals can choose from tens of thousands of free blueprints available from Thingiverse.com, aptly dubbed “Wal-Mart in your home.” Simply download (or create) a digital blueprint and press “print.” From birdhouses and bikinis to iPhone cases and artistic vases, the possibilities are so varied that oddball lists like these don’t even scrape the surface. (Visit Thingiverse for a mind-blowing search spree).
And if you need more convincing that this isn’t just a sideline fad, consider the fact that the White House recently created the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a public-private partnership focused on accelerating 3-D printing technologies.
Institutions of higher learning have also taken their cue. New York University has been offering a class for the past few years in “turning creative ideas and designs into realistic models,” and learning the ins and outs of copyright and distribution – surely a worthy course of study. Yet some are already calling its bluff. “NYU is Offering a Course on 3D Printing If You Want to Waste Your Parents’ Money,” announces a headline on BetaBeat, a high tech blog.
But while nowadays it may seem like a frivolous hobby to print your own thingamabobs, think about how home computers gained ground – at first, they were in the hands of a few curious nerds.
Then suddenly you look up from your conversation with Siri and realize just how much has changed in a decade.