3D Printing: Opportunities and Challenges

July 10, 2013

This is the third in a three part series on 3D printing. Part 1:  "3D Printing: The State of the Market"Part 2: "3D Printing: Future Impacts".

Those who are highly involved in the additive manufacturing space should consider how best to position themselves in light of this future. Printer makers especially have an opportunity to establish a coherent brand and marketplace, as well as working with established retailers to circulate their products (though margins are quickly shrinking). In turn, traditional manufacturers that believe their products may come under increased competition from 3D printed products would be well-advised to consider, as McKinsey puts it, “how to add value for consumers in ways that home-printed products cannot” and “new ways to customize products to match some of the advantages of home printing.” 

The challenges with additive manufacturing are equally real (and in some respects are the exact flipside of the opportunities).  The emergence of home printing throws up a number of product liability concerns—it’s only a matter of time before an injury or malfunction makes this a very real concern. Policymakers will have to clearly assign liability. Additionally, as I’ve noted in a separate blog post, the intellectual property systems in most developed countries are not prepared to handle the 3D printing revolution. Once policymakers and regulators get in on the action, they must do so with an eye toward balancing the need for innovation and the rights of property owners. 

What remains with the advent of 3D printing is an excitement about the future. As we cast an eye toward more far-out dreams, it seems likely that the greatest impact of this technology will also be the most personal. As we’ve already seen, scientists are hard at work building the means for what is, for all intents and purposes, an assembly line for human organs. Maybe this strikes you as discomfiting, until you realize that this advancement does away with organ donor rolls and the prospect of the sick dying mere days before their long-awaited transplant arrives. 

Almost as profound are the advancements being made in developing super-strong, superlight materials; cognitive computers woven into everyday products; and robotic machines, which could one day manufacture all our materials needs without a drop of added human labor. Disruptions will occur, but the nature of free enterprise is its capacity to harness human creativity and technological opportunity in ways that transcend its relentless upheaval. It is our responsibility, in turn, to be ready and learned for when that happens.

 Part 1:  "3D Printing: The State of the Market"  |   Part 2: "3D Printing: Future Impacts"  |  Part 3: "3D Printing: Opportunities and Challenges"