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New FC: Material Issues

My new column for Fast Company is now up. The Desktop Manufacturing Revolution looks at the possible impact of 3D printing, which seems to be on the verge of the same breakthrough we saw 25 years ago with desktop publishing.

If 3D printing follows a similar trajectory, we may not be likely to see a massive shift to entirely digital "products" any time soon, but we could well see a shift to more local--even desktop--production. There's no guarantee, of course, that 3D printing system prices will crash in the exact same way as laser printers, or that individual households will decide that desktop manufacturing is appealing. Local manufacturing seems a good bet, however, for a variety of reasons. There's a particularly strong sustainability argument around local manufacturing, from the rising tide of "localism" philosophies (from food to media), to the ability of 3D printing to extend the useful life of manufactured goods by making new parts (as Jay Leno does for his vintage cars). The sustainability argument will become especially powerful once cheap overseas-produced goods reflect rising costs for fuel and carbon. And local manufacturing via 3D printing, even if limited to simple consumer items, has the potential to disrupt incumbent manufacturing, shipping, and retail industries.

As usual for my FC pieces, not many surprises are in store for long-time readers, but it's sometimes useful to clarify my core ideas about what the future could hold.


Excellent piece. I find the potentials for local manufacturing and repair, and creating new artwork very exciting. I've read a number of things recently on the possibilities of 3D printing and "fab-labs" but what I haven't found is an appraisal of the energy costs involved as compared with traditional manufacturing methods. I'd love to find out more about the energy inputs and about the prospects for using recyclable materials in the process.

When will we see the first "fab exchange" market for trading designs based on a value index?

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