3D printers: Disruptive to business?

Summary:Gartner analyst Jackie Fenn named 3D printers as one of the emerging trends that could impact society, technology and management.

3D printers have the potential to alter businesses as well as revamp consumer demand as these gizmos move from a oddity to becoming more mainstream.

Now 3D printers aren't something that will be in your home office any time soon, but I'm a bit surprised by the number of passing mentions at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando these products are getting.

If 3D printers---around since the late 1980s---are going to be disruptive and may impact the supply and demand equation. On the supply side, Gartner analyst Jackie Fenn named 3D printers as one of the emerging trends that could impact society, technology and management.

Also at Smart Planet:

On the supply side of the equation, 3D printers can be had for less than $10,000. That price point is important because 3D printers are now cheap enough for enterprises to buy in bulk. Ultimately, these businesses armed with 3D printers can easily make product prototypes. These prototypes would streamline design and development of new products, argued Fenn.

In the short to medium term, this technology offers the potential to accelerate the prototyping and manufacturing processes and support customization on a scale not previously economically viable. In the long term, on-site manufacturing of parts has the potential to transform the logistics of parts supply, distribution and delivery. As a result, it is likely that powerful new business models will emerge that could prove hugely disruptive to existing parts manufacturing, distribution and logistics.

On the consumer side, 3D printers can serve as personal factories that churn out customized goods. Today, shoe companies use 3D printers for single prototypes. There's no reason why a few hobbyists couldn't start making their own shoes.

Taken to the extreme consumers can theoretically become their own manufacturers and that's going to be disrputive to some industries. If all goes well, these consumers can become enterprises of their own.


Topics: Printers, Hardware


Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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