3D printing and fabrication, known informally as “fabbing,” has the potential to be one of the most disruptive technologies ever. 3D printing is the process whereby physical objects are built up in layers in a machine that resembles an ink-jet printer. The design for the object is in a computer file which the printing machine uses to fabricate it. The only other requirements are the “ink,” or the stocks of materials from which the object will be made, and power to run the machine. This technology will allow manufacturers to “print” the parts they need as they need them. It will also allow ordinary people to fabricate things for themselves. People will be able to make things or acquire them locally, instead of having to find a distant manufacturer to send them one. That will have profound effects on the way we do things.
The industries that are dependent on the present way of doing things will suffer, and the result will be a long struggle to prevent the change. Much of the war will be fought with Imaginary Property (IP,) much as the legacy entertainment industry is doing now with music and movies. 3D printing, though, won’t be attacked only by copyright. It will also be vulnerable to the misuse of patents. This topic is covered well in a paper titled “It Will be Awesome if They don’t Screw it up,” by Michael Weinberg.
People aren’t letting these threats dampen their enthusiasm, though. Fabbing is an energetic and rapidly growing field, led by the likes of MakerBot and RepRap. For them it’s full speed ahead now and we’ll deal with the problems when they arise. I hope that doesn’t make them easy pickings for the people who won’t want to see them succeed.
What about the title of this post, “A World of Villages?” I was just wondering what would happen as at least some of our manufacturing processes become decentralized. If most of the things we need can be fabricated locally instead of being made in big factories far away, might we not find ourselves thinking locally more? Might we not find ourselves in villages once again?