The Future is 3D Printing

A student wearing multi-colored 3d printed shapes as jewelry, next to a 3d printer with designs on the heated print bed, and holding 3d letters in her hand.
A student wearing multi-colored 3d printed shapes as jewelry, next to a 3d printer with designs on the heated print bed, and holding 3d letters in her hand.

I once attended a conference where a futurist was pontificating about how 3D printing would change everything.  I have since been to several conference and even presented in conferences speculating on how the world will change once everyone has a 3D printer in their home.  The idea is that one day 3D printers will be like microwaves in your home.  Everyone will have one.  Are we ready for this? What are the implications?

If we look at the arc of consumer technology transformation in the last couple of decades, one could argue that it does not matter it we are ready for the commoditization of 3D printing.  We were not necessarily ready for cellphones or flat screen TVs, yet here we are.  Perhaps the consumer does not have to be ready, but as a diversity in STEM advocate, I do think society should start preparing for the new wave of jobs and opportunities.  I think a major lesson learned from the cellphone is that we did not train technologist on mass on the incoming technology.  It would have been great to train high school kids or even college students on developing Apps in the early days of the technology.  The technology was left to the market and a very small group of interested individuals.  This is unfortunate, because it is not especially difficult to create a small App. We could have created an broader industry of technologist App developers that could work for large corporations today developing Apps.  The App conversation is a longer conversation and I will try to post more on this later.  The point is that the knowledge required for 3D printing is something that society can start investing in now to prepare people for the incoming technology transformation.  I think especially high schools and colleges can start training kids on 3D Cad design, the pre-requisite for 3D printing.  The least schools can do is to promote the already existing certifications for this technology, many of which only take a few weeks to complete.

The implications of commoditized 3D printing will depend on how prepared we are as a society (see previous paragraph).  There is a scenario in which many people are trained and for example the US economy creates a new group of high paying jobs that do not require a college degree.  People in industries that are becoming obsolete would be able to transfer int this space at a relatively low cost of entry.  In the new world where you could potentially order something only and have it delivered via a 3D printer in your home, instead of a driver this could mean many new job opportunities and furthermore many entrepreneurial opportunities.

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