The revolution will be 3D printed
Let's get physible
Beyond revolutionising the Christmas present, 3D printing’s biggest impact will arguably be to turn many manufacturers from traders in physical products to information brokers. Their key resource will not just be the products they sell – it will be the information that describes those products. And information can be copied and distributed very easily on the internet.
The Pirate Bay has already sailed into these choppy waters, launching a new section for 3D printer files – or “Physibles,” as the site’s dubbed them. Oddly, one of the first businesses to be affected by the arrival of Physibles is Games Workshop – the chaps who create those little metal orcs and goblins for tabletop wargames (don’t pretend you don’t remember).
In 2011, it discovered that someone had been creating tanks and Space Marines for Warhammer 40,000 that were based on the company’s designs and sharing them on the 3D printing website Thingiverse. Games Workshop swiftly moved to shut down the pirates, stating that “We are very protective of our intellectual property.” Almost exactly the same response as that of the record companies when confronted with Napster, then.
Copyright infringement – copying a creative work – is only the start of it. When home 3D printers become sophisticated enough to create working machines, users will start having to worry about patent infringement.
If you thought the patent wars around big corporations like Apple and Samsung were holding innovation back, just wait until the patent trolls start targeting ordinary folks who’ve unwittingly infringed patents with their home 3D printers.
“A lot of industries that are focused on making physical things are going to be confronted with a very similar dilemma to that faced by creative industries in the last 10 years – there is going to be a new way to distribute their key product,” Michael Weinberg, author of the white paper “It will be awesome if they don’t screw it up”, tells Stuff. “They can spend a lot of time and money fighting that change, or they can spend even less time and money making use of that change.”
The seismic digital waves that have swept through the music and movie industries are starting to rumble manufacturing – and will ultimately have the same revolutionary impact. As 3D printers become more widespread, copyright and patent infringement wrangles will grow – and only manufacturers willing to embrace it will survive. For them, it’s disruptive change – but for us, a brave new world of personalised products and collaborative design awaits. Not to mention some really amazing Christmas presents.