Among the most touted storylines at the Consumer Electronics Show was the big leap forward that 3D printers are making into everyday life. For a price, consumer models are on their way so that folks will soon be able to “print” plastic toys, belts, cups, spare parts, and other items in their home offices with the same expedience as printing a document. As the parent of a Lego-obsessed son, I can definitely see the value of being able to produce for him, out of thin air, that single piece of the X-Wing fighter he lost the other day. It would certainly bring a bit of peace to the house. He’s been apoplectic about it for three days going now.
Also, IKEA. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to haul an entire piece of furniture back because there was one single broken or missing component in the “assembly kit.” The time and hassle savings of just reproducing that incorrigible little item at home would, again, be priceless.
On the business beat, the value is even clearer and it’s already taking hold. For example, I recently broke one of the buttons on the stereo console of my car. To my honest amazement, when I took it in to the dealer they literally 3D printed a new one right in front of me and installed it in a matter of minutes. Talk about improving the customer experience …
With that example in mind, the most interesting thing about 3D printing to me is the dramatic disruption it could reap on traditional supply chains. Rather than having to warehouse and ship parts like my car’s radio button from the point of manufacture, 3D printing allows businesses to shave weeks off the fulfillment timeframe (and, by the way, also reduce the carbon footprint associated with production and distribution). With 3D printer in hand, service parts engineers can simply download the blueprints and schematics for these parts and print them on-site as needed.
The implications for this so-called “digital” supply chain lean more toward intellectual property, since suppliers in effect turn it over to their customers by granting them the blueprint file. As this concept plays out, however, industry will need to find new ways to ensure data chain security so that this information gets protected. Perhaps it will become a function of M2M, where manufacturing equipment at the supplier communicates directly with the customer’s 3D printer, thus removing humans from the process entirely. Or maybe, somebody develops a Snapchat-like application where the schematic disappears as soon as it fulfills its use to the printer.
Either way, it is fascinating to think about 3D printing as more than a technology for producing superfluous items, and rather as something that will disrupt historical business processes for the better.
By Stein Soelberg, Director of Marketing
Stein leads a team whose responsibility is to own the branding, advertising, customer engagement, loyalty, partnership and public relations initiatives designed to propel KORE into the 21st century. With over 15 years of technology marketing experience in the business to business software, Internet services and telecommunications industries, Stein brings a proven track record of launching successful MVNOs and building those brands into leaders.