You Will Own a 3D Printer

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

Recently there has been hype surrounding 3D printed guns. 3D printing is going to change the world but not because of weapons. The revolution is going to happen with everyday, mundane household items.

For those who don’t know, 3D printing is a form of rapid prototyping. A digital 3D model tells a machine how to lay down layers of thin material. The layers build up, and up until a physical 3D object takes form. (In the image above, the white gear under the clear yellow plastic is being printed onto the flat surface.) Most 3D printers work with plastic, but there are several that can use other materials like metals and ceramics.

In the very near future when you want a new coffee mug you won’t buy it at the store. You’ll download plans for a mug and print one yourself. Even now, there are 3D printers capable of making everyday objects marketed to home users for around $1,000. This is going to drastically change the way we buy household items. Lose the battery cover for your TV remote? You won’t have to order a new one from the manufacturer. You’ll just download a file and print it yourself. Interested in a piece of jewelry? Download the plans, insert metal powder and print it.

What about more complicated objects? Commercial 3D printers can already create things like circuit boards from multiple materials at the same time. It won’t be long until this technology is available for the home user as well. How long will it be before you can print something like a smart phone? That raises another issue. Companies are going to have to protect engineering plans for their parts even more vigorously. What if plans for the next iPhone were leaked onto the Internet and consumers could print them on their own?

The next hurdle in the 3D printing revolution is being jumped right now. Until now you’ve needed digital 3D files created by an industrial designer to print objects. You can use a separate 3D scanner to create these files but that’s a bit cumbersome. Which is why AIO Robotics created the first 3D fax machine, an all-in-one unit that can scan, copy and print 3D objects.

Right now, we’re used to sharing digital files like photos and MP3’s. But very soon you’ll be able to share actual objects. Like your friend’s earrings? No need to go to the store. Just copy them. Need a new key for the front door? Don’t run to the hardware store. Just copy it. Does your child want the latest action figure? He won’t have to beg his parents for it; he can copy his friend’s. How will manufacturers deal with this? Once something is digitized and uploaded to the Internet there is no way to protect it. It seems that soon, anyone will be able to reproduce almost any object at will.

How will this affect us as humans? Will the ability to create things right in our home make us lazier? Will we care less about design since anything can just be copied? Or will the ability to realize design so quickly make us appreciate good design even more? Time will tell.