"For Love of Neighbor" is a new documentary film offering a hopeful vision for Christian engagement in politics. Click here to learn more.

3D Printing’s Challenge to Big Government and Big Business

The advent of 3D printing is beginning to undercut the monopolistic nature of big business and the standardized approaches of big government. The success of the U.S. is rooted in free enterprise and the ingenuity of its citizens, and nanotechnology and 3D printing are perfect examples of this. Although big business is a by-product of this American spirit, it is time for a new industrial revolution, and it appears one is gaining momentum.

Makers by Chris Anderson

In “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution,” Chris Anderson declares that desktop manufacturing will change the world. That may be true, but more significantly, it returns power back to the people when it comes to both consumption and production, which are often the victims of exploitation and constraint.

The beauty of 3D printing resides in its ability to materialize an idea anyone may have by transforming digital designs into physical objects using open source software. These designs can be printed locally through an individual’s own 3D printer, or manufactured by service bureaus, thereby superseding the traditional steps of manufacturing that are vulnerable to barriers to entry. With 3D printing, traditional barriers to entry in terms of capital, location of raw materials, and expertise during the production process can be overcome. No longer will inventors have to give up control to venture capitalists or relocate to regions where raw materials are abundant.

In his book, Anderson articulates how the expensive features in traditional manufacturing are free with digital fabrication, as the computer-aided design (CAD) software that builds the digital models can be easily tweaked. Additionally, crowd-funding and social financing companies relieve individuals of funding needs, and raw materials used in 3D printers are inexpensive and easily obtained.

These inverse economies of scale, which have been created by nanotechnology, have led to the consumerization of the manufacturing process, which encourage a culture of self-manufacturing of products that are customized to meet the needs and preferences of individuals at no extra cost. As 3D printers become more affordable, individuals will be able to employ their expertise and manufacture their ideas, leading to even more specialization and customization in the marketplace. Consequently, specialized goods will become more accessible at progressively affordable prices, and individuals will retain most of the value in the supply chain.

Soon, anyone, anywhere can be an inventor. Not only will this allow people of modest means to purchase customized products at affordable prices, but it provides the prospect of ingenious inventions coming to market that would have otherwise not been pursued due to the old barriers to entry as mentioned above. Similarly, the promising potential of increasing access to customized goods at affordable prices serves individual needs and wants despite fiscal or geographical constraints.

Eventually, small producers and businesses will be able to print their ideas effectively, while reaching a sufficient market over the internet. This will enable them to inch up in market share relative to the big businesses that have traditionally dominated on account of economies of scale, and the elitist manufacturing dynamic that persisted for decades. Providing competition to these corporations will keep them accountable and will make businesses better and customers happier on net.

[pullquote]     The wave of 3D printing will ride against the impersonal tides of standardized services and one-size-fits-all packages.[/pullquote]

In relation to big government, the wave of 3D printing will ride against the impersonal tides of the standardized services and one-size-fits-all packages that are often offered by the government. Just as men may not need maternity care covered by their health insurance plans under Obamacare, individuals may or may not need products with certain adjustments or features, which 3D printers are able to amend. In other words, rather than big brother telling individuals what is best for them, individuals can decide and act upon their best interests by the utilization of 3D printing, as it caters to their personal needs and tastes.

While this new era of 3D printing will cause dynamic shifts in the marketplace and world as we know it, it will enable the global economy to progress in a way that empowers individuals by engaging more intelligent and creative minds across geographical lines, despite one’s demographic, economic class or corporate ties. 3D printing will revolutionize mass manufacturing, act as a solution to the trend of outsourced manufacturing (according to Anderson) and contribute to our long-term economic viability. Taking advantage of this new industrial revolution will help humans flourish, and further the common good, as more individuals are better able to pursue upward mobility.