I have recently been experimenting with my X-Carve CNC router and 3-d Printer realizing that manufacturing and the supply chain will change drastically as these technologies mature. You can see some of my experimenting here:
I have a feeling that this decentralized fabrication could really disrupt traditional manufacturing. Where the “scarcity economy” will no longer be relevant when you can make anything you want from recycled feed stock through 3d printers, wet printers (for meds, food, etc.), and other fabrication devices. If you covet a shirt that someone else has, just take a scan of it and print it. No need for going to the store or even Amazon for that matter.
You may say that someone needs to supply the 3d printers. Well, even printers today are often made with parts that were printed on a 3d printer. Just like robots can fix and build other robots, 3d printers can print new printers.
If we, the consumer, can start to manufacture the products we now buy from others, what will happen to the actual manufacturers? What happens to the Mattel Toys or Lego who makes billions off of selling plastic toys that can easily be printed in ones own home? (NOTE: I used to work for Mattel in the early 90’s) Will there be a compensation model for the R&D work that these companies typically spend a fortune to create and protect. Could it become just like the music industry, where they fought and litigated against kids making mp3 equivalents of mix tapes?
Or maybe products will just be licenses that are paid for but then manufacturing is done locally? Or will it evolve into something more like an open source sharing economy? Where individuals create, share, barter, and sell their ideas with each other without the need of monolithic corporations?
In the 90’s, we saw the internet as a democratization of information, communication, and commerce. Where small entities and individuals could operate without a lot of central control. But eventually large companies rose out of that and dominated (Facebook, Google, Amazon). Maybe there will be someone who figures out how to capitalize on this and become the Facebook in the world of home-fabrication.
All I know is that this is an exciting time for someone who likes to make things. I don’t know how this will affect the economy of tomorrow. What I am hoping is that this decentralized model of manufacturing continues, giving us all more control over what we consume.