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October 2012

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3D Printing and The Real Makers of the Economy

by Glen Emerson Morris
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In September 2012 Makerbot opened the World's first brick and mortar retail store for 3D printers. The location was New York City, near the company's home office, but if you'd like to see a demo you won't have to go there. Within days of the NYC opening, another 3D printer store opened in Southern California, and more stores are planned soon in other cities. Within three years, there'll be a 3D printer store in most shopping malls. Within 10 years, 3D stores won't just be in shopping malls, they'll be replacing them.

3D printing is well on the way to becoming the most important invention since the wheel. In its mature form, the 3D printer will provide everyone on the planet with their own personal version of the Star Trek matter replicator. 3D printers will provide food, clothing, tools, medicine, and larger ones will even make shelters. In the process, 3D printers will wreck capitalism as we've known it. The good news is that 3D printers are going to be good for SMBs in general, and great for advertising in particular.

While 3D printing may promise to provide people with all the material things they need to survive, people generally want to do more than just survive. That's why the entertainment, tourism and sports industries are the third, fourth and fifth oldest professions (advertising, of course, is the second oldest).

The emergence of 3D printing is raising some very basic questions about the different roles corporations, SMBs, governmental organizations, non-profit organizations and individuals play in maintaining a healthy economy.

Conventional thinking has held that the primary makers of the economy were corporations, SMBs, and the government. To some degree, all three of these entities invested in research and development which improved the efficiency at which a society can convert resources to the things it needs to survive (aka wealth). The more efficient a society can convert resources to wealth, the more competitive it is in the global economy, and the more likely it is to survive long term.

The fact that until recently, all of the research being done was financed by either business or governments meant that all of the new technologies would always favor centralized technologies, designed from the ground up to make money for, and only for, large corporations.

Over the past decade, non-profit organizations have been funding basic and applied research on a scale sufficient to begin affecting the national economy. Some of the recent developments point out some a very basic flaw in the way the GDP is calculated.

Suppose some funded group of biologists create a genetic modified wonder plant/box that grows a $3.00 loaf of bread every week. The "technology" of the magic breadbox is declared public domain and within weeks, 50 million Americans acquire one and immediately quit buying a loaf of bread they used to buy every week. Our current math would count this as a loss to the national economy to the tune of $150 million a week, or $7.8 billion a year, with no significant offsetting entry. In reality, there would be many savings to the real national economy.

First of all, our national transportation system would not have to move 50,000,000 loaves of bread god knows how many miles every week. We'd import less oil, create less carbon emissions, save wear and tear on the interstate highway and rails systems, and eliminate the wastage involved in the creation and disposal of bread packaging. The magic breadbox would also make a nation intrinsically stronger, better able to weather war and natural disaster, and impervious to the cost of food on the global market.

Still, from the standpoint of conventional GDP economics, the magic breadbox would be an economic disaster. In reality, it would only be a disaster for agribusiness, bread manufacturers, their distribution chain, and the banks all of them owe money to. And for all the national, state and local governments all of them would owe money to, if they paid taxes. The true winners would be 50 million Americans, who like corporations, would owe no taxes on the $3.00 loaf of bread they made for themselves rather than purchased.

The magic bread box not only questions the basic credibility of the GDP it also makes it clear capitalism is incapable of creating entire classes of critical products, the five dollar cure for cancer, the refillable ink jet cartridges, the never empty bread box. It's not science fiction to speculate that all of these products, and more, will eventually be developed and distributed by non-profit organizations that sponsored their own R&D.

Even now, the effect the Makers are having on the economy makes it impossible to dismiss the fact that we are living in a post capitalist society. In truth we are now living in a mixed system, but not the traditional balance between corporate and state interests.

All current economic systems presume the "means of production" can only be owned through some kind of collective, either corporate or social. The only real differences between the two systems are the rules for the acquisition of power that gives control to one set of people or another. The Maker movement is based on the concept that individuals can, should, and eventually will own their own means of production, and will be self sufficient forever. It's a three way balance of power now, between corporations, government and the individual.

It's true we're several years away from the magic bread box being a reality, but the new 3D printer from Makerbot has to be taken seriously as a breakthrough release. It offers 2 1/2 times the resolution compared to most home 3D printers for only about 70% more cost. At Maker Faire, just a few months earlier, companies were happily showcasing $1300 printers with a resolution equivalent of the 300 dots per inch, or in this case, layers per inch. Objects printed at that resolution look and feel rough.

The Makerbot Replicator 2 has a resolution of 0.01 millimeter (aka 100 microns) and features a build size of 410 cubic inches, and sells for $2200. The Makerbot Replicator 2X, at $2700 features two extruders enabled it to print two colors of material, or even two kinds of material at once. Objects it prints are reasonably smooth, and adequate for many common household items including kids toys.

Within three years, 3D printers will offer twice the resolution for a third of the cost. You won't be able to tell 3D printed items from factory manufactured items, and our economy will never be same.

Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.

Copyright 1994 - 2011 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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