Have you heard of 3D printing? What’s it all about? Is it actually something that can change our lives? Or is it a whole lot internet driven “buzz”?!

Just imagine in the comfort of your own home printing dinner. You download a recipe, upload it to the printer and “hey presto”, it prints your food. Dinner tables will never be the same. In fact, the dinner table may even be printed first by a 3D printer.

With the exciting new potential of 3D printing that future might not be so far off. From guns to cars, 3D printing is already being applied in creative (or disturbing) ways. This seemingly boundless technology has taken its production to printing high heels, concrete houses in China and creating stem cells for new organs.

The potential for this new technology is still in its infancy. But the media have already dubbed it “the technology that will change the world.” After all, with the ability to now print a gun that is undetectable by metal detectors, it’s only a matter of time before someone is shot by one. Welcome future crime.

Although 3D printed guns have sparked controversy across multiple media channels, they aren’t fully functional yet. Experts believe it will be at least a year or two before this is the case. The gun design is being developed ongoing but many 3D enthusiasts have struggled to consistently pull the trigger successfully on any of the 3D guns printed.

Like the proliferation of the internet, as 3D printing grows from a novelty to something useful it will affect business and behaviours around the world and across industries.

3D printing presents greater advantages in the market for spare parts and replacements, one early example is KeyMe, a company that makes house keys on demand. How many times have you misplaced your keys or needed a spare? To get another key all you have to do is head to a KeyMe kiosk which stores your key design anonymously; which you access via a fingerprint scanner and within minutes you have a new copy.

For companies that run small scale productions they could potentially see an increase in their productivity. Instead of significant lead times for prototypes to be developed, you can have one in the palms of your hands by close of business. This could reignite local manufacturing and rejuvenate the industrial sector in Australia.

But let us take this 3D printing idea one step further. Imagine an ‘internet warehouse’ selling cameras and camera parts… now you are selecting a ‘design’ for a new camera lens off the web, downloading it onto your computer and proceeding to manufacture it yourself using your own 3D printer quickly and easily with next to no fuss at all. For businesses this can mean less time for getting your product to market, increasing the potential for greater productization and increasing profits.

If this will be the case, how will traditional or emerging Business to Business (B2B) systems or processes play a part in this new highly automated ‘self-service’ future? Will the supply chain for manufacturers collapse or dissolve only to be reborn to meet these new needs? And how will remotely printed 3D parts be accounted for in an ordering system or how will they be paid for to the supplier who is creating and selling the 3D designs?

These questions and more remain unanswered for now. But there is no doubt that 3D printing is definitely game (and life) changing technology.

Hayden McMaster