Although the objects in our lives are still lining the shelves like cloned armies, the writing is already on the wall for mass production. A strange device is about to appear on the scene to bring unrest into the nicely ordered ranks of our everyday consumption: the 3D printer. A technological all-rounder, it is already spewing out cartilage, prostheses, dentures, skin, cars, houses and shoes onto the earth, and soon astronaut housing onto the moon, as well. But before that, it will first rapidly conquer our private households, where industrious production is already underway on rubber octopuses, storage boxes, action figures, jewelry and spare parts. Industry insiders such as Bre Pattis, video blogger, artist and co-founder of the US 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot, are seeing the Industrial Revolution 4.0 pick up speed – not least thanks to cheaper and cheaper 3D printers entering the market for professional and private use. Home models can already be picked up for about 250 euros, and prices keep falling. In the wake of this, consumers are increasingly becoming manufacturers, with production processes becoming so simplified that they are saving a great deal of money and time. Pattis cites an example: “In the furniture and interior decoration sector, the 3D printer wave is only just starting to gather force. We are seeing companies reduce their innovation cycle from weeks to hours.”
Many experts think that we are likely to see a division between professional and private production in the future – we will buy some things offline or online, while others we will print ourselves, such as a tailor-made handle for the oven, spare parts for the washing machine or car, Christmas decorations, the toy from a new animated film, the perfect wedding ring. To do this, we will either pop into the Makerspace around the corner or we will have our own 3D printer at home. Manufacturing instructions and files will be given to us by the service department of the respective manufacturers and rights holders, or we will download them free of charge from the Internet.As a result, we will be creating the things we would like to have, feeding the printer with materials such as dyed plastics or epoxy, plaster, ceramics, silicones, metal – and even chocolate. Although, if you want to print in chocolate, you will have to dig a little deeper into your pockets, because at the moment you can still only get commercial chocolate printers. Or you could expand your device to include a chocolate function. Instructions are available at Thingiverse, Yeggi and Youimagine, among others, where inventors exchange files and tips on how to create new things and tune their 3D printers. In addition, you can learn to design 3D objects on websites like www.tinkercad.com – good practice for the future, in which we will all be designers and manufacturers. This is how we are challenging mass production and creating a movement which, merely because of an increase in regional production, has socially explosive potential – what we print locally, we don’t import.
The spare parts industry is bound to be a pioneer for such re-regionalization. According to Bre Pattis, early users will also be ahead of the pack. And if large companies do not integrate 3D printers into their processes, new opportunities would arise for small businesses. What is more, due to the print-on-demand phenomenon, warehouses will become smaller and even superfluous – while the retail industry will turn their focus on service and experience. Furniture companies, for example, will become temporary showrooms with changing product environments and have more of an event character. Retailers will get involved in planning and design, afterwards sending the files to a cooperating Makerspace or the customer for production. In short, passive consumption belongs to yesterday; in the future, we will be actively involved in planning and design – and we might even see the 3D printer at work on the moon. After all, tourism by rocket is also about to take off.
Text: Ulrike-Johanna Badorrek
Photo teaserimage on startpage: 3D-Drucker ©ZYYX
Photo at top: ©iStock