Block-chain financial transactions, autonomous trucking and driverless automobiles, robotics and advanced manufacture, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and deep machine learning; societies traditional structures are on the verge of dramatic change. Appreciation of and adaptation to these disruptions is essential for progressive thinking.
One technology that is generally understood in concept, but perhaps less so in implication is Three-Dimensional Printing. 3-D printers have been around since 1984, and like most technology have been largely out of reach for average people and organizations. However, as with all technology the complexity and costs are diverging and these tools are now commonly available.
Initially, 3-D printing was explored by hobbyists, who were able to print small plastic objects; but the printable material options are now incredibly vast, as are the printing plans openly downloadable from the Internet.
Democratization of manufacturing has occurred. Can the machine shops, large infrastructure investments and decades of trained knowledge capital in our aerospace sector be eliminated by a high value 3-D printer in a basement?
At early inflections of the technology; what is possible is already amazing. From field physicians in developing countries printing customized artificial limbs and prosthetics to entire homes being “printed” automatically.
Today, 3-D printers are printing breathable clothing with microorganisms (Eschericia coli) to help regulate body temperature. There are now bioprinters and DNA printers that are being used to print 3-D viruses that be inserted into human bodies to fight cancer. Human organs, even stem cell building blocks can be printed with bioprinters. This is no longer for hobbyists and manufactures, it is permeating into human health.
SpaceX use 3D printers to reduce costs and speed of testing. The Super Draco rocket engine is a printed reusable rocket engine. In the future it is highly probable we will be printing on demand products in real time from our mobile phones.
Can P.E.I. become a hive of cottage production cranking out and distributing materials. What unique natural resources do we possess that could be used as a printing material? Are we training the workforce to manage these complex systems or develop the printing instructions?
Controlling the intellectual property and digital content used to conduct microscale manufacturing will be a powerful element in a new economy. As this technology continues to mature expect more disruption in customization of metals, fabrics, and even pizza. These capabilities will be stressed by inventors and maximized by entrepreneurs.
Blake Doyle is The Guardian's small business columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.