Think 3D movies are great? Try 3D printing!

Not too long ago, I learned about 3D printing- which is just what it sounds like:   printing objects.  You can buy digitally printed games,  jewelry or gadgets at Shapeways or items for interior design at Freedom of Creation.   Boeing actually produces about 30 parts of the Dreamliner 787 using “direct digital manufacturing” which “employs a laser to ‘grow’ parts from powder without any need for direct-touch labor or hard tooling.”

This is huge.  It completely changes the rules of manufacturing.  For example, unique parts don’t require major retooling to be made.  It makes it economically feasible to produce one-off designs.  It also means you can create 3D prototypes without big up-front costs.  [At a talk at Xerox PARC, Christopher Anderson, author of The Long Tail and Free, described how it facilitates global manufacturing by allowing something designed in one country to be prototyped and “printed”  for the overseas manufacturing group to see exactly what was wanted.] It also means no inventory. [If you’d like to know more about the technology, you can watch a talk that Scott Summit gave at Singularity U.]

Makes me wonder- what next?  Will we develop the technology, like the replicators we saw on Star Trek, that will allow us to produce what we need at will?  Imagine how that would change the world…