I Am A Convert: The Next Industrial Revolution

The personal computer revolution was arguably started by a now-famous electronics tinkering group called the Homebrew Computer Club. The transformational effects of the personal computer can hardly be overstated now, but at the time, the idea of a computer in your home — let alone your pocket — was bizarre future fiction.

There is a parallel today, in fact. A relatively new technology that exists mostly in large warehouses and in the garages of tinkerers, and which sounds like an utterly ridiculous thing to have in every home: 3D printers.

Like personal computers, 3D printers have the capacity to transform an entire portion of our economy from one based on scarcity to one of abundance.

Last week I spent a little time at the Blur conference with Bre Pettis, the founder of Makerbot, where Bre gave a keynote titled “The Next Industrial Revolution.” I am now a convert.

A humble presenter, Bre showed off some of the truly remarkable things that people are already doing with 3D printers at home — like repairing unrepairable centuries old harpsichords by printing the parts that can’t be bought.

When you look at Makerbot’s Replicator 2 it’s impossible to avoid thinking of Apple’s personal computer. At a little over $2,000 it’s a pricey hobby machine, but the cost is not much greater than a good computer, today.

This transition will be faster than the last one. The pace of invention is increasing, and the Replicator is not the only 3D printer on the market, some of which are capable of printing every component needed to make…themselves.

Without trying too hard, I can think of several things around the house that I could use a 3D printer for. Replacing the knob for the oven fan, which is apparently something that can’t be bought at Home Depot or True Value anymore. But I could print it.

Modifying the iPhone cradle that came with my original iPhone to fit and work with the iPhone 5. Or Just building crazy toys for my nearly-four month old child. Why not, right?

Once the usefulness becomes obvious — and to be fair, the process of making or acquiring a 3D software model to print becomes more accessible — I think the spread of 3D printing will be unstoppable.