3D printing will bring about the end of the production chain as we know it: Discuss

 

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Up until now, the big stories in 3D printing have generally been consigned to the novelty pile. But 2013 looks set to be the year 3D printing is speculated about in terms of practical use, with some even claiming it could bring about the end of the production chain as we know it.

MB is no stranger to novelty 3D goodies. Our edible Advent project in 2011 certainly stretched our imaginations, thinking and patience, but proves what can come from a little ingenuity and DIYing. Since the completion of this project the printer has been put to use, creating practical plastic parts for around the studio and churning out props for a recent live action shoot.

But those that have stuck with the food-creation angle are seeing thought-provoking results, like Janne Kyttanen, co-founder of design studio Freedom of Creation and creative director of printer manufacturer 3D Systems. Kyttanen claims that “Food is the next frontier. We’re already printing in chocolate, so a lot of these things will be possible in the next few years.” Her team have been building some interesting prototypes of burgers and pastas, provoking questions of what our food could look like if we had absolute creative freedom. Others have asked if the technology could be used for diets of astronauts, and if it could spell the beginning of truly sustainable food – even going as far as suggesting the elimination of the existing food production chain.

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Much of this is speculation, unfortunately the technology as it exists today is too young to reproduce nutritious, profitable food (even though the theory is sound). For now the takeaway trend of all this experimentation and seemingly throw away projects is that of cooperation and open sourcing.

Recent developments such as 3D scanning, open design platforms and even some retail space offerings are bringing 3D printing to more people than ever before and crucially, putting means of production into the hands of the consumer.

This has, as always, lead to the proposal of a revolution. End of consumerism, reversal of production chains, permanent empowerment of the customer; these are some bold claims, and not without criticism, but there are some elements of reality.

Like with many other industries, unique, tailored experiences are not a passing trend. 3D printing provides the opportunity for truly personalised products, and will further enable manufacturers to provide the bespoke services audiences will increasingly come to expect. Whilst a consumer revolution may be some time coming, new tools and big names tentatively taking their first steps towards open source spell change. Whether manufacturers like it or not, the monopoly on product control may well be approaching its expiration date. 

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