In a very plausible scenario where consumers can just print much of what they need at home, and not go to the store, it reduces not only the need for manufacturing plants whether they be domestic or international, but retail stores as well. There are environmental factors as well: less shipping, less driving, less waste, and less pollution.
The number of potential dramatic changes to society are staggering.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and greater chances for abuse of that power. There is no telling what consumers will want to print, or what demand will arise first. The publicizing of the first firearm is evidence that the technology won’t always be used to make faceplates, screws, or a full set of dentures, or hearing aids.
It is inevitable that with this boom in technology that regulations will follow. The U.S. State Department already has intervened and demanded that the group that printed the firearm and publicized it pull down the plans, after 100,000-plus people downloaded the plans for the firearm.
It won’t just be a public safety issue. In fact, this is a minor issue. In the same way that a run of the mill, home use scanner and photo editing software are all designed to recognize legitimate currency, and not allow it to be printed or edited, 3D printers also have the capability of being programmed to not print a firearm or other weapon.
The bigger issue is intellectual property and copyright infringement. The unfortunate potential for counterfeiting is significant. Not to mention product liability when a consumer makes the product according to manufacturer’s specs, but is injured. Who will be to blame?
The future is here
The future is simple and obvious. 3D printing will change the world. For the next few years these early manufacturers will see their numbers go up and down as they make acquisitions, build new plants, and experience growth pains. But they will inevitably succeed and be as solid and integral to our society as 3M Co (NYSE:MMM) or International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) are to us. The question is when do you plan to take advantage of that knowledge and invest in the future? Now or after their stock prices have increased again?
The article 3D Printing Earnings Predict the Future originally appeared on Fool.com and is written by Erin McBride.
Copyright © 1995 – 2013 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.