At the moment there are limitations of size and use but The Pirate Bay may be onto something by offering ‘physibles’. Currently, consumer 3D-printers print coloured plastics. The models are durable so are great as the toys in the image below. However, imagine if the printers could print all materials?
Physical PiracyCurrently, the main form of sharing is digital formats. A product is converted from physical to digital (CDs to MP3s, DVDs to Video files, Books to eBooks) but with 3D printing this has the possibility to go the other way. Users can turn digital files into physical object; a bit like downloading music and burning it onto a CD. In the future you could download a new part for your car or a belt and print it in your own house. If this becomes a reality then manufacturer’s could seriously be in threat – why pay for somebody to design and make a product for you when you can it all yourself? As one commenter writes on Pirate Bay’s announcement, ‘You wouldn’t download a car would you? I WOULD IF I COULD!!’
You would only ever have to pay for the printing materials and everything else would come free. Pirate Bay may see this as a perfect opportunity for piracy but a huge positive is for content creation.
User Generated ContentCurrently, to create, produce and market a product requires hefty financial backing. That is why shows like Dragon’s Den exist. There is a wealth of budding creators waiting to launch the next big thing but held back by monetary constraints. They may have perfected the design phase or even created a prototype but the next steps – consumer feedback, production and marketing – don’t come cheap. However, 3D printing allows designers to make their own products or even to market their designs round the world for others to print. 3D printing could do for product design what YouTube did for video, Soundcloud did for music and eReaders did for books. User generated content is on the rise.
This is a controversial talking point in the marketing world at the moment as designers argue whether designs should be free or not. Each 3D printer comes with a ‘design store’ or catalogue where users can download templates for printing. Some stores are free and allow open sharing between users. Others charge for all designs where the designer and the printer manufacturer share the profits. There’s also the possibility for stores to operate like mobile app stores with the designer setting the price.
Fad or Revolution?A lot of people think 3D printers are just a fad for graphic and product design communities and will never go mainstream. That may be the case in their current form but as 3D printers become larger and more intricate I think there is the opportunity for a real manufacturing revolution. The Pirate Bay believes that 3D printers are just the start and that in 20 years we will be downloading our clothes. According to them, physical sharing will mean ‘No more shipping huge amounts of products around the world. No more shipping the broken products back. No more child labour. We’ll be able to print food for hungry people. We’ll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal. We’ll be able to actually copy that floppy, if we needed one.’
That’s adventurous thinking but it could be closer to the truth than many people think!