Manufacturing industries need to embrace 3D printing, which will have an even bigger impact on economies and society than the internet, an Australian technology specialist says.
Steve Sammartino is a digital entrepreneur and venture capitalist who advises business on how to adjust to disruptive technologies and the digital revolution.
While most of us have heard about 3D printing and its potential to improve medical treatments and manufacturing processes, Mr Sammartino says 3D printing will be far more than a niche tool.
He says it will transform everything about the way we live within a matter of years.
Speaking to The World Today, Mr Sammartino said 3D printing represented an extraordinary technological shift.
“The first time I saw it, it blew my mind as well because to see actually something physically get made layer upon layer in front of you is quite astounding. I think that 3D printing will be even greater than the information revolution because it democratises manufacturing for the first time.
“We’re going to see desktop manufacturing in the same way that we saw desktop publishing and information transfer and so we can actually transfer physical products to other people who can print it at the other end, just like we would send an email or send a video.”
But while that may be good for individuals, it will be hugely disruptive for industry, and Mr Sammartino said business leaders could not afford to ignore it.
“I think you need to embrace it. Like we’ve seen with the social web, the companies that moved quickly to embrace the new tools and collaborate with their audience have been the major beneficiaries.
“In fact, the idea of making and selling items is not nearly as important as the idea of providing platforms and collaborating with your end consumers.
“So trying to fight the tide is kind of like — it’s not a strategy that’s effective for the manufacturing industry.
“The best thing they can do is work out how to use it as a platform and collaborate and get faster and quicker innovation by working with their customers and their supply chains rather than trying to fight the tide of the things that they used to make.
“Because we’ve seen with the social and informational web that’s a strategy which simply doesn’t work.”
‘It will change everything we do’
Mr Sammartino said even businesses that did not manufacture anything needed to pay attention to the technology.
“It’s just a little bit like the internet. When it arrived we thought, ‘Oh, that may be interesting for media’, but as we’ve seen it’s transformed every type of business no matter what industry.
“The internet is an important part of our business, and 3D printing, while we can’t see exactly how that might manifest itself, there’s no doubt that it’ll change everything we do from just simple operations and the spaces we work in and in unforeseeable ways it’ll impact, I think, most businesses.
“Even the way our homes are furnished will change and the type of things that we print at home. It’ll even have an impact on our foods — we’ll be 3D printing food. Smart brands will be selling components.
“Just like the ink jet printers get sold, you might have a chocolate company selling you the ingredients that go into your 3D printing machine to print things exactly the way that you want.”
But making 3D printing more accessible will come with risks, Mr Sammartino said.
“One of the unforeseeable externalities is that I think that we have already seen 3D printed guns and one of the problems with those is that when they get used there’s no safety concerns in the manufacturing process,” he said.
“Is there a duty of care of the person sending the file or is the duty of care with the printing manufacturer or is the duty of care with the software designer that designed or scanned the file?”
He said it was an issue that needed to be considered by the Government.
“So you get all of these other legal issues that we’re going to need to be very speedy on from a government perspective so that we’re across it and we protect consumers.”
by Sarah Sedghi and Eleanor Hall | 1 Apr 2015, 3:07pm