3D Printing is the Fast Track to Innovation
Many in the industry consider prototypes the primary or, “killer” application for 3D printing. Why? Because new products are typically designed using 3D software, they’re also “print ready,” making them low hanging fruit for anyone with a 3D printer. But because of 3D printing, more prototypes are also “production ready.” The prototype is the product! This allows people to disrupt the traditional product innovation process, making 3D printing a fast track to innovation.
Industry insider and MakerBot CEO, Bre Pettis certainly drinks the kool-aid. He says,
“Makerbot is an innovation company.” We innovate ourselves to empower other people to innovate. Our mission is to jumpstart the next industrial revolution.”
How exactly does 3D printing help people innovate? By flattening process and removing upfront cost.
TRADITIONAL PRODUCT INNOVATION
In the traditional product innovation process each of these steps must receive careful consideration prior to launch. A budget must be created and time must be allocated. Work must be done. Many projects fail one litmus test or another along the way and much of the innovation that went into them is wasted. Others are launched and then fail. Launching a new product is risky because it requires such a big investment upfront.
Software innovation is less risky because it requires less upfront investment. It typically relies on labor to launch. Once the investment is made, and programming is completed, software companies can focus more of their resources on sales and marketing, allowing them to earn a big return on investment (ROI.) It also has its risks, but risks are tolerable when the initial investment is low.
3D printing allows inventors and designers to innovate like a software company. Once they identify a problem and analyze it, they can determine the solution and specifications, design the product, create (print) the product, test it, and release it for electronic distribution. There is little investment other than labor.
But, while 3D printing can speed up the process of product innovation, it’s also creating regulatory, legal, and even moral concerns. Governments make regulations and laws to improve public saftey or well-being and they’re able to enforce those laws because products are manufactured and distributed systematically by a relatively small group of suppliers.
There’s really no way right now to inspect or restrict what someone prints on a 3D printer. Intellectual property rights and product safety laws are already being tested. Some products even have moral implications. 3D printed guns, printed food, and health-related products come immediately to mind. It may not matter much though, because the genie is already out of the bottle.
In 2012, media personality, Glenn Beck, founded a new project called American Dream Labs. His goal for the project was to “team some of the best storytellers and creators in the country with some of the wildest thinkers to drive and tell the story of American innovation and inspiration.”
The project recently received a MakerBot Replicator 3D printer. He introduced the machine on his show, and talked about what the machine could mean for patents, original artwork, currency and more. According to The Blaze, he also asked “whether the world is philosophically, morally ready for the capabilities of mainstream 3D printing, but went on to say “it doesn’t matter,” because the tech is already here.”
As 3D printing continues to innovate – making it easier to create and source files, achieving better quality, handing more substrates, reducing cost, and providing new finishing options – the demand for 3D printers and 3D printed products will continue to grow. 3D printing will even help meet the demand for 3D printers.
In 2008, the RepRap open source 3D print project created humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine. The opportunities in that area and the implications for innovation and production are mind-bending, let alone the philosophical questions around the eventuality of other machines replicating themselves.
While 3D printing is playing a big role in jumpstarting the next industrial revolution, its not working alone. Product innovators are leveling the playing field with other new tools. They’re using crowdfunding to finance their initiatives. They’re using crowdsourcing for ideation and feedback, and they’re using digital marketing and eCommerce to create awareness, drive traffic and sell product. In the aggregate, its a system built for maximum ROI because almost all effort is put towards innovation and marketing. As Peter Drucker so famously noted:
“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”
So the question for me is this: If 3D printing, crowdfunding, and crowdsourcing are the fast track to product innovation, could we take these key elements driving the next industrial revolution, package them as a system, and create an idea factory for social good?
You might ask, “why products? Do they really provide that much social value.” Imagine your average day without eyeglasses, zippers, ballpoint pens, or batteries. All simple products that have transformed our daily lives.
You might also ask who defines “social good.” In this case, the crowd with their wallets and ideas. But, could we at least provide a spark? Create exposure around some of the world’s big problems and provide a carrot to help solve them? The time is right and the tools are in place.
So where do we start? Which of the world’s big problems should we tackle with 3D printing?
Traditional printing companies have an opportunity to participate in the growing 3D print market and 3D4Printers.com is dedicated to helping printers make the leap. Want to learn more about 3D printing and how to add the capability at your company? CONTACT US today.