Marc Andreessen wrote an interesting essay today on Why Software Is Eating The World on WSJ. In the essay he makes a point that software — and the services which rely on it — makes the difference nowadays. I agree with him and I think it also applies to 3D printing.
It is software which ties everything together and makes new innovative services possible. Powerful innovations in the hardware world have made this possible. Computer hardware has become a commodity, the internet is ubiquitous and smart phones are on the rise. The combination of those three important hardware developments gave companies the building blocks to build powerful and innovative solutions and disrupt whole industries. Marc mentions a lot of them in his essay but I want to mention two here. The first is Skype. Skype — and others like Whatsapp and Viber — is disrupting the whole telecom industry. All made possible by the internet, computers and smartphones. The second is Netflix (and/or Hulu). They already blown away the video renting business and next up are cable companies and television networks (except for content that is). These are powerful shifts.
The same will happen with 3D printing. Although the technology is not as ubiquitous as the internet or a commodity like computers it is only a matter of time. The technology has improved a lot and keeps on improving. The rise of hobby 3D printers is a perfect sign that something is changing in the 3D printing industry. It also proves there is a need or want to own a 3D printer even though only bought by a niche group of people at this moment.
When you connect 3D printing, the internet and computers you can create very powerful new innovative services and products. It is the software which ties it all together. Software allows to create designs to print and share them with others. Smarter software will make it possible to create better designs and increase the quality and success rate of a 3D printed object. Software will enable creative people to express their creativity on physical products beyond putting a picture on t-shirt or a mug. Product design will become digital content like books became ebooks.
The disruptiveness of this change is significant and the impact on the manufacturing and design industry is going to be massive. It is going to change how companies are marketing their products and how they are interacting with their customers. Designers will need reevaluate their position in the product design process and how they design and market their products themselves. And more importantly it is going to change the perception of products by consumers. Do I actually want that latest model or did I like the one I had? And just make copy with some minor improvements.
Software will make this all possible and I agree wholeheartedly with what Marc Andreessen writes. The next years and the coming decade will be very exciting. It is hard to predict where we will end up exactly, but I am excited about the opportunities it brings.