Within a few years, most faucets, sinks and other building products will likely be downloaded, not shipped.
"We saw this coming, yes, but had no idea how quickly it would take shape," says Green Builder Editor-In-Chief Matt Power, author of the future-focused Celestia Project. "It's sort of a ninja attack on the manufacturing industry, one that I don't think most of them yet see coming."
Power notes that the media is distracted by stories of 3D printers being used to print whole houses. That's not the most obvious and practical use for personal 3d printers, he says. "Why use a printer to replace plywood or bricks or metal roofing? That's overkill. But a faucet—now you're talking." As evidence, he points to hundreds of household objects already being offered as 3D blueprints. Some are still toys at this point, but you get the idea.
Ready to Print. This shower head is just one of thousands of household items already available in virtual form, ready for 3D printing on site. Source: Thingiverse.com
"Say you're remodeling your kitchen ten years from now," Power says. "Your contractor will show you a bunch of faucets online, You will pick the one you like, pay for it with a thumbprint or retinal scan, and the blueprints will be sent to your 3D printer in the garage. A half hour later, your installer will walk by with the object in hand, and the blueprints will self destruct."
3D Kitchen, Anyone? A Dutch company called Tinello is now offering 3D printed miniature versions of entire kitchens for would-be homeowners. Sure, this is more like the dollhouse version, but really it's just a matter of scale.
The only big challenge still remaining for for 3D printing to explode into the manufacturing realm is developing the right composition and management of raw materials.This will allow for objects built with different materials on the same printer. But this, too, may be just a speed bump.
Already, you can buy stainless steel 3d printing filament, with which to create robots, jewelry and other metal objects. It's not much of a leap to the kitchen sink, or custom lighting. Can 3d printed solar panels be far off?
The big question for traditional manufacturers, is how they will keep themselves relevant, especially given the Internet cultural expectation of getting things for free, or sharing them with friends. Efforts so far to control intellectual rights have not gone well. Almost every code can be hacked, as sellers of music, video and software can attest.
What concerns me is that you've got some great companies out there," Power adds, "such as Kohler and Bosch and Panasonic, who have spent millions on R&D to perfect and improve their products. But once they digitize the 'formula' for a product into a 3D map, they could lose control of it in a millisecond. These companies may need to develop a completely new business model. They may need to study companies, such as Adobe, that have mastered the art of survival in the world of digital products." GB
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