3D Printing and The Brave New World.

3D printers are simply stunning to watch. Check out the video below to see the technology in action building a home made of concrete:

What’s exciting to me is that this technology is in it’s early stages. Think about it: Decades from now, this will look utterly primitive.

This is going to completely change the way housing is done across the globe. The days of the rickety wooden shack with corrugated metal roofing will come to a close as 3D concrete printers pump out homes that are durable, efficient, and able to be built in a day. How many lives will be saved in impoverished regions of the world when people can take shelter in their 3D-printed concrete homes under the onslaught of hurricanes and severe weather? These people stand to benefit enormously.

Meanwhile, an Italian company plans to roll out a 3D-printed electric car within the next year:

“The Italian company X Electrical Vehicle (XEV) will team up with Polymaker, a manufacturer of 3-D printing materials, to make the LSEV, which XEV claims will be the first mass-produced 3D-printed car. The company says it has already received more than 7,000 orders for the cars from the Italian postal service and from ARVAL, a vehicle-leasing service.

The cars top out at 70 kilometers per hour (a little under 45 MPH) and have a range of 150 kilometers (just over 90 miles)… The cars reportedly take around three days to manufacture.”

How much? They’re going to market at $10,000 – a steal for an electric vehicle.

Will this vehicle be any good? Will it sell? That’s for the entrepreneur to figure out. But I have no doubt that 3D printing of functional, efficient vehicles will be possible – and someone will figure out how to do it on the cheap.

Throughout history,  we’ve seen a particular model of developing production again and again. It begins with custom production; each item is specially made, often requiring a relatively large amount of effort and money. Clothing is produced on a loom, iron tools forged by a blacksmith, or a 1950’s-era computer specially built in a monolithic cabinet for a university somewhere. These items tend to be expensive in both time and money to produce.

Next comes standardized mass production, in which production technology and methods enable large numbers of identical products to enter the market. We buy a t-shirt at the store, one of hundreds of thousands produced in large quantities. We buy a car off an assembly line, produced in closely-followed steps by workers and robots. Even homes can be mass produced, using similar designs and construction methods. These homes are much less expensive to make than custom homes and can be constructed more quickly – this is what enabled people to move to the suburbs in the post-WWII era, as mass production of homes produced large amounts of relatively high-quality houses with little construction time required.

Singer Malvina Reynolds complained about this in her folk tune “Little Boxes” in which she derided “ticky-tacky” suburban homes, declaring that they “all look just the same”. Reynolds calls mass production of homes “tacky” – meanwhile, I call it “enabling people to live better for less money.”

Finally, we reach the third stage: the union of customization and mass production by way of interchangeable parts. Consumers get the low price of a mass produced good and the customization of a specially-produced good. Cars can be swapped out with multiple different parts during production, giving us a wide range of models. Homes can be built in modular fashion, swapping out sections based on the buyer’s whim. Consumers get choice and value, all in one neat package. This is where 3D printing stands to make enormous impact, increasing control over design while lowering price and effort.

The advent of home 3D printing may become the fullest expression of this. All you’ll need are the materials, the digital blueprints, and the printer itself to get custom-designed consumer goods produced in the comfort of your own home – and in your hands when you need them. Think, “Amazon on steroids”.

The brave new world presented by the 3D printing revolution will be amazing to witness, and the production of homes and cars is just the start!

Categories: The IT Philosopher

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