How 3D Printing Will Revolutionize Mfg and IP

If you haven’t seen the most recent M.I.A. video for Double Trouble here it is. The video opens with a satirical snippet from a news documentary talking about home made weapons. Through out the banging track you see images of young people holding multi color weapons of various sizes and calibers. We may remember reports of the FEDS testing 3D printed guns that were anything but disarming. Later findings show that these cheap firearms are very likely to explode and do little damage. This is good to know for now, but the BBC reported that a metal gun can be made with a 3D printer and mentions that better forms of plastic can be purchased to make a more stable weapon.

This is pretty terrifying in a certain way right? The fact that you could just be sitting at home and on the other side of your dry wall apartment barrier, your neighbor could be casually printing out a 9mm, would stir anyone. Luckily there are already some controls that have been placed on the technology. If you notice in the M.I.A. video they show scenes where the printer detects that a fire arm is bring printed. Newer models have been regulated to prohibit the machine from printing firearms. Note,they were still printing one anyway, that’s because hacking a 3D printer is about as easy as jail breaking an iPhone. Not to mention that there are older grand father models that do not have the restriction.

The possibility of a maniac printing a gun at home is pretty scary to us but not as scary as it is to big companies in the manufacturing space. If you can print a gun or print a human organ  at home then why not print a drinking glass or a screw driver? How about you stop buying cheap made in China toys and tools and just print them at home? Well then what would those big retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys R Us do?

One of the biggest burdens of working with China is logistics, and thus far we have been using 3D printers for quick prototypes and then shipping our designs off to a manufacturing plant to make the thousands or millions of pieces that we may need to supply our demands, but that may not be necessary any more.

As the 3D printing industry grows we can get higher quality printers for less, which means that every one can have one. Right now you can get a desktop 3D model from companies like Cubify for less than a thousand bucks. This means you don’t need to wait for pesky ship times for a lot of the goods you might want, and you no longer have to go through the traditional channels. Why pay for gas to go to the store or shipping and handling when you can make whatever you want in your garage.

You can replicate, keys, and forks, and drinking cups wear without any help at all. Well, not exactly. Someone still has to design all this stuff. Someone still has to turn a design into a executable file for your printer to render, and this isn’t always easy. If you want a really nice ergonomic phone case, you still have to pay the product designer and the engineer to create it. But these designers can upload their designs directly on to the internet and take a royalty when they are downloaded. Finally inventors can do their own direct to consumer licensing deals with 3D file marketplaces.

These market places are little hubs just like SoundCloud is for music, they are places to go where people can get to their market without a middle man. Some sites charge a transaction fee for paid downloads and others are just ad supported networks. In any case the amount of scale you can get from one of these sites will be relatively small without a backer.This leaves room for someone with a marketing budget to get in to the space and make some serious cash.

Instead of going to the Target Store, or browsing, you could theoretically download your files from the Target data base and print your product at home. This means that brands can build shops where you are literally buying design inventory. For manufacturing scale, a company could simply create a 3D printer farm and print all the pieces they actually did want to ship or assemble them in advance to be sold to other manufacturers. Essentially this isn’t a far cry from the high tech mfg jobs you’d see in Europe or US now but it could be done at a much lower cost.

Now, if you wanted to build a manufacturing start up like Quirky you can do it for something like $50,000 instead of $5 million. For larger items, instead of trying to find a huge truck or pay shipping from Ikea, you could just printed it at a local print shop that has a larger scale device. These printers take up half a room , but do the same thing as the desk top printers and the technology is getting better every day.

If all we’ve come to know brands and retailers for is their curation, isn’t this the leanest way to accomplish that? And with advances in printing and silk screening you could customize your finish and even modify your designs with a little help from a designer.

This isn’t a tomorrow thing, its a right now thing. You should be on the look out for brands and retailers to start publishing designs and filling patents, these licensing deals would make your product designer something like an song writer, and a retail brand more like a record label.

Maybe YOU should start learning our to work your way around 3D printing software to be ahead of the job market eh?