Buried in this article on how the Chinese are investing heavily in the new of 3D printing is this:

The achievement that won an award for Wang and his team is a technique called Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) for manufacturing high-density, metallic components. Their work led to the 2010 production of a wing part for the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of ’s C919 jetliner, for a 90% cost savings over traditional manufacturing methods.

Did you catch that? A “90% cost savings over traditional manufacturing.” That is not just a marginal improvement. This is a major breakthrough that is going to have a huge impact that can only dimly be seen at the moment. How many people will be removed from the manufacturing sector as a result? Will there be resistance by the Luddites protesting this amazing improvement? Will there be legislation that will slow it down or derail it, all in the name of “saving jobs?”

On the other side, how many items will come down substantially in price, making them much more affordable to customers? What would that mean, for example, in the simple task of preparing a meal?

Theoretically, this type of system could be used to build a plane, [a] car or even a human organ. Some forecasters predict 3D printers will be making home-cooked meals by 2020.

What will that mean to fast-food restaurants when meals can be prepared even more quickly at home, and probably significantly cheaper as well? Those restaurants better offer more than just cheap fast food. They’ll have to make sure they provide an “experience” that 3D printing won’t be able to provide.

My son and my wife and I just had such an experience yesterday. We had lunch at a local Red Robin restaurant. A friend doesn’t like to go to Red Robin because he “can’t get his head around paying $10 for a hamburger.” But he misses the point: we had a terrific experience that involved a nice meal in a nice place served by attentive people who were interested in our experience. They worked hard to make it memorable. The meal itself was almost an afterthought, an excuse for getting together for a pleasant and enjoyable experience.

The ramifications of 3D printing are hard to see, but that’s how it is with a tsunami: most people don’t see it until it’s on top of you. For instance, see the movie The Impossible. The first indication of trouble was when guests at the beach front resort saw palm trees crashing down on them as the wave surged inland.

Watch for the palm trees crashing in front of the wave of change being wrought by 3D printing.

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