Saturday, December 5, 2009

Out of the freezer and into the 3D printer - what's your job?

The advent of the transition to a 3D world is here – what are you doing about it?

I say to my offspring (failing, really, to catch their imaginations) that it was all black and white/print media "when I were a lass". So they too will say to their children - "it was all 2D when we were kids, none of this full 3D visualisation and in-home 3D printing. If you wanted a Club Penguin figure or a scooter part, you had to go out and buy one - sometimes they had to ship it from overseas"

Manufacturing is on the cusp of a transformation with the advent of computer 3D printing. The speed and versatility of 3D production machines virtually eliminates the set-up times and costs of conventional manufacturing processes. The rapid prototyping they allow has significantly speeded product design and testing times, and even more significantly they are also starting to be used for high-end individualised manufacturing (e.g. hearing aids). In the near future, these machines could be as distributed in homes and offices as printers and photocopiers are today, radically altering the patterns of traditional factories and the consumer economy. Fabrication materials will still need to move to the locations of production, though these will no longer be centralised, but the location of production and consumption will be the same. Economies of scale may no longer be so significant, and distances between individual contributors to the design of products can be vast.
3D production machines open up the possibility of the same peer-to peer design revolution for 3D products as has been applied to the ‘mashable’ virtual contents of the web.

The advent of the technology of refrigeration changed New Zealand's prosperity and wellbeing path and provided a high standard of living from primary produce for many decades. The story of New Zealand's slide down the OECD rankings since the 70s, with changes in both geo-political affiliations and the price for primary produce compared to the price for skills is well known. With the shift of manufacturing away from developed countries, and increasing costs and concerns in relation to transporting goods to and from remote locations, New Zealand appears to face even greater challenges. 3D globally connected peer-design and distributed printing open up opportunities for small remote countries.

Do we understand what new opportunities the shift to 3D opens up, given the twin challenges of distance from other markets and scale (population just pipped 4 million and predicted to decline)?

Who is thinking about the transition to 3D in New Zealand and how are they being supported?

How are we preparing ourselves to be well placed to take advantage of this shift?

Who is making sure the preparation is being built in to our education, training and economic development agendas?

Post Script
Since I wrote this post in December, 3D printing has continued to become more widespread and cheaper. Have a look at this blog post by Sten to see how fast the field is moving and how some of the possibilities for transformation are becoming a reality:

Renowned long-run strategic thinker Riel Miller ( ) visited New Zealand in 2004 and described today's 3D revolution as a possible future. At that point in time many found it hard to comprehend, some found it unimaginable. Just six years later, it has become reality. It's a salutary reminder of the importance of understanding what is happening now and enlarging our imagination about what could happen next.

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