Harry Wallop asks a question, the answer to which is going to change our lives. Here's the question: “Why would you go to the store to buy something you can make at home?”

Do you want a new toothbrush, a button or a coffee mug? Why go to the shops and buy it when you can sit down at a computer, a button, and out it pops from a “printer”, fully formed and ready to go?

Any idea this was a fanciful notion, only found in cartoons, was blasted away by Cody Wilson at the weekend. The student from Texas used a 3D printer to make a functioning plastic gun, which successfully fired a bullet. It has highlighted this fascinating

Just how far can this go? Can this be as as print-on-demand publishing that ended Borders and is threatening Barnes and Noble? Can this be as revolutionary as fax machines that aided in the demise of the Soviet Union? Can this – ready? – threaten big government by making large parts of it irrelevant?

It's already begun. Bre Prettis has started a company that makes 3D printers: “My personal motto is that I make things that make things. My professional motto is we're igniting the next industrial revolution and empowering people to change the world.”

Here's part of that revolution, although Wallop doesn't see it. When you look at Cody Wilson's gun, he says:

when you look at the example of the gun: it was printed on a machine that cost over $7,000, and the various different components took days to make. It would have been cheaper, quicker and easier just to pop down to the local Wal-Mart and buy a pistol.

Let's forget about the that Wallop lives in England where you can do no such thing as “pop down to the local Wal-Mart and buy a pistol.” Let's consider instead about the real possibility that in America that option will no longer be open. 3D printing will do an end run around such restrictions. Especially as the price comes down. Some are estimating prices for 3D printers will drop below $2,000 in less than 3 years. Others are already selling for just over $2,000 today.

But there's way more to this revolution than just escaping from government and limitations and restrictions. Think about how life will change when most people have a 3D printer just like they now have a microwave oven. The impact on will be immense. is calling it “mass production of custom-designed products.” This will cause great upheavals in the marketplace as people will be able to design their own products to their own specifications for the own personal use: shoes, for example, prosthetic limbs, false teeth…it boggles the mind.

Think for a moment about the impact on China's mass production facilities of cheap goods that are sent to Walmart for sale here. Think about new companies starting up with minimal manufacturing costs.

There are naysayers, of course, who think 3D printers will become a fad, like bread machines, which will fade away after the newness has worn off. But I think the entrepreneurial spirit in this country will prevent that from happening. Better than that, I think we're at the cusp of an amazing technology whose impact on our lives at present can scarcely be imagined.



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