Companies often face a fundamental challenge when it comes to technology. Evolve and adapt or die. There is no in-between. There is no holding on to old business models. Technology is a cruel and unforgiving mistress that changes at an astounding pace. It has systematically changed entire centuries-old industries such as print and newspaper production. Conventional printed books and newspapers are beginning to become an endangered species, in favour of digital books and online content.

It’s easy to see how technology can threaten industries such as print and media; as those are consumable goods that lend themselves to a digital format. They exist as goods that can easily be copied and replicated. Distribution costs became essentially non-existent with the rise of the internet; and as such, smart companies adjusted their business models to make money in this new world. Those who didn’t are no longer around or are on their way out.

One such industry threatened in the same way is an unlikely one – manufacturing. With the costs of 3D printers getting lower and lower every year, the manufacturing world will soon join the club of industries forever changed by new technology.

3D printers work by taking a 3D model from a computer CAD program, and then building a 3D object layer by layer until it is fully formed. They can print using many different types of materials, including rubber and hard plastics, and can be used to create parts and objects for all kinds of uses. A replacement human lower jaw bone was even printed and successfully implanted in June 2011!

The MakerBot is a consumer-level 3D printer that retails for $2200. Combined with 3D modelling software, users can create their own designs and print them, right in their own home. The creators of the MakerBot have also created the “Thingaverse,” which is an online repository for user submitted designs available for download.

It’s not difficult to imagine the implications of such technology. If you want a new cell phone case, simply download the design and print, or even design a case yourself and print. The only cost is for the 3D printing material. No more trying to find what you want and wait for it to be shipped to you, simply make it yourself. The possibilities are nearly endless.

The time is soon approaching for companies to begin taking advantage of this shift in manufacturing to become the leaders in this strange new world. Those who refuse to believe that things are changing, or that they can hold on to traditional manufacturing methods, will be doomed to failure.


This article first appeared in Memorial University’s student newspaper: The Muse March 21, 2013

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