I was loosely following updates on the 2013 CES show in Vegas (thanks to the folks at CNET.) I’ve always found it pretty exciting to peer into the future of what may become common place in our daily lives and think about how these advancements may change the way we create, function and live.
The one that made my head explode was the CubeX 3D printer.
3D printing isn’t really anything new. It’s been around for a few years (which these days seems like an eternity) but until recently, 3D printers have been giant, expensive machines used in industrial prototyping and engineering.
The crazy thing about the CubeX is that it’s designed as a home “desktop 3D printer” (with two & three-color options, I might add). Meaning, you could buy one, take it home and start cranking out your very own 3D creations (assuming you have AutoCAD knowledge, etc… but details, details). Granted they aren’t cheap, but with a starting price of just under $2500, they aren’t unobtainable either.
Like everything else in the tech world, they’re only going to get cheaper. It reminds me of the early days of flat screens HD televisions. The first time I saw one was at the Sony store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It had a $21K price tag. Fast forward about 10 years later and now you can walk into just about any retailer and pick one up for about $500, if not cheaper. The HD TV of today is also thinner, wider and has a much, much better resolution than the Sony way back in the early 2000’s. The same will certainly happen to 3D printers if — and when — they catch on.
Home 3D printing could become as ubiquitous as flat screen televisions. Just imagine how they would change everything about how you buy “stuff.” You’d search on-line, for say a new pair of running shoes, buy the plans, hit print and minutes later go out for a run in your new shoes.
Nike is already producing their Flyknit line, which are essentially “printed” shoes. What’s to say the 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation of 3D home printers couldn’t crank them out on demand? So much for fighting Shelbyville Road traffic or God forbid, waiting for UPS to drop them off at your doorstep a couple of days later. That’s so 2012.
Some online retailers are getting ahead of the curve. Take a look at Shapeways. For those of us who aren’t ready to plop down $2500, they sell the finished “printed” product. On their site you can buy, or design, custom created objects. They are 3D printed out of polymers ranging from plastics to glass to metal. Up until now, fabricating such fanciful and intricate items would have been a challenge, if not impossible. How’s that for a retail business model? Other than raw materials, 3D printing stores carry no inventory. When an order is placed, print it, box it and ship it.
In the 1920s, a company called Burma Shave — producers of brushless shaving cream — started putting signs up that delighted and educated drivers. These