The next big thing in disruptive technology

I PREDICT the next big thing to disrupt consumer technology will be 3D printing.

This may be a big call given there are some amazingly disruptive technologies appearing on the market – such as Google Glass, smart watches, smart appliances (TVs and fridges), and Internet-connected homes.

However, 3D printers are not about to boost sales for Dick Smith or Harvey Norman just yet. Gartner is predicting it is 5-10 years from being a bona fide consumer product. Meanwhile they expect business and medical applications will drive the next few years of 3D printing’s use.

If you’re unsure what all the fuss is about, read on.

Firstly, to see what a 3D printer looks like, here are two models – the stylish Autodesk Spark (on the left) and the more industrial-looking Stratasys Objet500 Connex3.







These printers need to be large given the size of 3D printed objects, a factor that is inhibiting their use and popularity in the home environment. The other reason that will keep 3D printers out of most homes for the foreseeable future is its complex ecosystem:

“3D printing is not one technology but seven different ones. “Hype around home use obfuscates the reality that 3D printing involves a complex ecosystem of software, hardware and materials whose use is not as simple to use as ‘hitting print’ on a paper printer,” said Mr. Basiliere. The seven different technologies each have pros and cons, and printers work with varying build sizes and materials. This means organizations must begin with the end products in mind.” (Pete Basiliere, Research Vice President, Gartner)

According to this Mashable article “How 3D Printing Actually Works“, 3D printing is a process that makes three-dimensional solid objects from a digital design developed using computer aided design (CAD) or animation modelling software.  The output design file is in special file type (.STL) that contains three-dimensional polygons so the printer can understand the form and structure of the object. 3D printing is “additive” manufacturing, where the material is formed in layers. There are many different types of materials that can be used:

After the finished design file is sent to the 3D printer, you choose a specific material. This, depending on the printer, can be rubber, plastics, paper, polyurethane-like materials, metals and more.

For a detailed explanation check out this Wikipedia entry.

Many different, and bizarre, objects have been printed using this process. These include a spanner, cycling helmet, bicycle, car (see below), hearing aids, gifts, shoes, scale models, furniture, whistle, smartphone stand, guitar, and even a gun.

Hands-down the most amazing and mind-blowing use of 3D printing is to create human body parts. Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are blazing a trail by using 3D printing to create bone and skin tissue that is customised for a specific patient/injury. Watch this video to see how brilliant minds are applying this technology to make the world a better place.


A final thought.

Once 3D printers become affordable and widely used in households, whole industries will be under threat. Clothing, packaging, household implements like tools/crockery, chairs, even appliances. Imagine the disruption that will occur when something in the home needs replacing, instead of buying online or at a store, you simply downloaded a suitable design file, fired up your 3D printer, and created a new version.

Now THAT will truly disrupt the consumer society we know today.


Links to selected 3D printer/printing websites and articles

3D Printing Tycoon – the coolest things being made using 3D printing techniques – 3D printer and printing news site –  3D printer news and commentary for engineers

3D Printers Australia – everything about 3D printers in Australia

Canalys – latest report on 3D printing sales, with projected CAGR at 45%

Forbes – article about dramatic increase in 3D printing skills requirements

Marketing Magazine – blog about impact of 3D printing on retailers – article about the world’s first-ever 3D printed car! See pic below.



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