Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Another post on the meaning of 3D printing

I’ve been looking at the objects that I’ve uploaded to Thingiverse over the last year or more and there are some interesting points that occur to me (interesting to me anyway).  I think these will affect the economy of the future. I know, everyone and their dog has commented on this already, but I’m not slow, I’m just methodical in my thinking :)
One category of things that I’ve created are things that are completely unavailable commercially. Perhaps nobody’s thought of them before, perhaps I have a need nobody else has, more likely it’s not economically viable to produce them for one reason or another. Maybe they can’t be standardized so it’s not viable to produce them for mass market.
Another category is things that are commercially available, but either not exactly what I want (wrong color, size, doesn’t match my stuff, etc) or (I think this is interesting) it’s just easier/faster to print one than to go to the store or order one online.  In some cases the item is available but is difficult to find, is expensive, or shipping is expensive (sometimes more than the object costs).
The third category is things that are utilitarian and I can get easily at the store, but I don’t for some reason.  Perhaps they come in 10 packs and I need 2, and I don’t want the trouble of storing the extras for years then not remembering where I put them.  I’m rather like a squirrel burying nuts in that regard – unable to throw things away, but probably can’t find them when I need them either.
I will also happily admit that I will design something that’s available readily and inexpensively locally, simply for the fun of making it myself, and also because I get a charge out of thinking that people are out there making and using something I designed.  I will spend a couple of hours making something I could buy for $2, because I’ll be able to make them in a minute or two later and also because potentially hundreds of other people can now make them from my files.
So, possible economic impacts:

  • Shipping is reduced – bad for shipping companies, good for the environment
  • Excess production and waste is reduced – only make as many as you need, don’t store and search for them later.
  • Items are better suited to their use – you can customize all you like.
  • Problems are solved that might otherwise go unsolved, or are solved better.
  • Satisfaction goes up immensely.

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