A recent Forbes Article caught my eye: 3D Printing In-Stores Is Very Close and Retailers Need to Address It. I have been writing and thinking about the impact of 3D printing for some time. At the 2014 International Leadership Associations Annual conference and later at a Global Conference in Panama City, Panama I spoke on the future of work and more specifically my book The Open Organization. My discussion focused on the nature of organizational structures. I outlined the scenario that was pushing us toward more open flat organizational structures. One scenario I presented was focused on the idea that we will become a maker society. Springing off the emerging 3D printing, I challenged the audiences to imagine a world in which we were able to print products we ordered off Amazon or other retail websites from our desk on our 3D printers. For larger products I posed the idea that we might pick up our order from a corner store – much like going to the local drugstore to get our film developed. I talked about how this would disrupt manufacturing, logistics, and retail itself. I surmised how this could produce new products and services not yet imagined as a result of the maker society. New cottage industries of 3D print shop drive through pickup windows and one hour delivery could possibly emerge form this era. Perhaps we will see companies begin to switch from manufacturing products to producing and distributing raw materials we could purchase for a host of items. The Maker Economy could end much of retail as we have grown to know it. Already, malls around the U.S. are shuttering their doors and windows as they can no longer compete with the likes of Amazon and Walmart. Retailers who imagine a new reality will be left as other fade into retail history [Think Block Buster and Sears].
The Maker Economy will disrupt business and government in the way we view laws, negotiate tariffs and how we identify and engage an already fractured workforce. When dealing with laws, suppose we used a 3D printer to print a pair of Adidas Shoes – Who will actually own the product? Who could own the data produced from 3D scanning your body? Would the website selling the design own it or could they sell your specific dimensions to other retailers? Imagine targeted advertising that now depicts you wearing the product that the designer is trying to sell you on.
We want the obvious answer to be that the end consumer would own the product and their data. But, what if printing a shoe or uploading your 3D scanned files signified your agreement to lose control of your data or to even “borrow” or lease the shoe for the life of the shoe itself and that once the item has reached its normal end-of-life it must be returned for recycling? Imagine how this could affect not-for-profits that collect and distribute old cloths. Or – what if the designer of the shoe could sell advertisement space on the product you just printed? All of these questions and more come to mind.
The dawn of the Creator Economy is upon us. With the election of Donald Trump many have surmised that we will see a manufacturing renaissance in the United States. I would argue that we will, but it won’t be what we might have imagined it to be. As 3D printing improves, the manufacturing in the US will likely hold another 10 to 20 years before the Maker Economy hits full swing. With the emergence of 3D printing, we will see the carbon footprint of manufacturing decrease as they switch to support a mostly raw materials output. We will also see technologies and techniques related to recycling improve and become mainstream. Intellectual property laws will need to be re-imagined to protect the branding of products produced by individuals. Prototyping will also change the speed at which products reach markets. Houses, cars and everyday objects will be readily accessible anywhere in the world in which the end producer has access to the Internet and a 3D printer. 3D scanning will revolutionize the knock-off counterfeit industry. Mining and extraction of raw materials will increase as we source raw materials for our 3D printers. Cottage recycling industries will take on the status quo and we will find new ways to improve the economy. 3D printing will revolutionize health care. We will see technologies increase whereby we can start to grow replacement parts that are built from our own DNA thereby ending organ rejection and waiting lists. Pharmaceuticals will also be challenged in this new era of Maker Me. The Maker Economy is sure to shake up the world. Now is the time to plan for change and to minimize its impact.
Dr. Philip A. Foster is a Thought Leader focused on the Future of Work and the 21st Century Workplace. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available on Amazon. He is an Ambassador to the OpenSource.com community and holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight from Regent University, Virginia. You can contact him at http://www.maximumchange.com