Chris Anderson: Why I left Wired - 3D Printing Will Be Bigger Than The Web

Chris Anderson: Why I left Wired - 3D Printing Will Be Bigger Than The Web

Summary: Chris Anderson, former Editor-in-Chief of Wired magazine, believes home-based "replicators" will transform our future.

TOPICS: Great debate


Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson has exited one of the top jobs in publishing - Editor-in-Chief of Wired magazine - to pursue the life of an entrepreneur, making a big bet that 3D printers represent a massive new phase of the industrial revolution.

He spoke at a Wired "Culturazzi" event, at the Marriott Union Square and to sign copies of his latest book: "Makers: The New Industrial Revolution."


Mr Anderson is always an excellent speaker and his talk covered the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, which he picked out as the invention of the Spinning Jenny in 1764 - a hand powered machine for spinning yarn.

I'd have pinned the start of the Industrial Revolution to the invention of the steam engine and its ability to power large numbers of machines thus enabling the first factories - which represented aggregated labor energy. Scale makes factories viable.

But I can see why Mr Anderson would favor the Spinning Jenny as it was a high-tech machine that was kept in a home - just as 3D printers are home based, completing a neat cycle of history.
Mr Anderson talked about his ancestors, his grandfather invented the lawn sprinkler but in those days it was almost impossible to become an entrepreneur because you had to build your own factory.

Today, Mr Anderson explained, there is Aliaba - an online registry of factories that will make anything for you. He told a story of ordering thousands of small electric motors, custom designed, paying with PayPal and receiving them via the mail in just a few weeks.

"We are all born makers," Mr Anderson said, we are all creative. If you cook, or write, or take photos, and many other things that people do, are all creative tasks.

He spoke about the invention of "desktop publishing" when laser printers, combined with software such as Adobe Pagemaker, revolutionized the publishing industry. You no longer needed a massive print "factory" and deal with unions, you just clicked a button on your screen, "Print." A massive industry had been reproduced as a simple icon.

And that's what 3D printers represent, nothing less than the consolidation of the massed factories of the industrial revolution, into a singe icon on your computer's screen: "Make."

Cubify printer

This is the promise of 3D printers, they are "replicators" they enable us to photocopy reality: "Rip. Mod. Make."

They represent the next industrial revolution and it's because of this that Mr Anderson left his job. "It will be bigger than the Web," he predicted.

Chris Anderson

At the book signing, I asked Mr Anderson how he was going to profit from 3D printers, will he make them? No, no, he has his drone company, which he says is the same thing, and that he explains in the book. Making robotic flying gizmos. I don't quite understand how it is the same thing but for the purposes of the evening's theme, it is the same thing.

I must admit I don't understand how printing plastic things at home disrupts anything beyond my local "99 cent" store that has lots of plastic things that now I might choose to print at home, and it would probably cost me more than 99 cents - given the history of ink prices for my home printer.

Our industrial age has created a massive number of advanced materials that are essential to producing our products - 3D printers can only handle soft, easily melted materials. A home 3D printer that can create a product with multiple materials, such as ceramics and metals, hasn't been invented and won't be for many years.

How disruptive can a 3D printer making plastic things be? Mr Anderson's book was printed at a large print shop - my home printer, despite many years of progress, still can't replicate a book - in all its qualities of heft and form.

If 3D printers could handle melted cheese, sugar, or chocolate, I could see a future for them in the home. But I wouldn't leave my day job.

More photos:

Chris Anderson
Chris Anderson

Above, Katie Boysen, Communications Director at Nasty Gal.

Chris Anderson book






More photos here.


Topic: Great debate

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  • He's right about the printer

    There is an expectation that this will lower the costs of production enough to bring it back to America.
    • Home printers

      I don't think home printers will be able to scale that well to be cost effective for production runs.

      I can see them being used for quick prototyping and modelling, but in their current form, they are too slow and too expensive (per unit of output) to be competitive.

      It could also be useful for printing spare parts for broken gadgets, where plastic hinges etc. break or cogs lose teeth etc.
  • PS: To the author

    You're thinking too small:
    • Behind a paywall?

      You need to do a bit better
    • You're thinking too small

      I got there. It's an article about using 3D printers to print plane parts.

      I am in the very slow process of building a 3D printer in my garage that will be able to print objects 3.5'x6'x12' in size. (For those who don't understand the ticks, those mean [i]feet[/i].) My plan once it is finished is to print new, more aerodynamic body panels for my Fiero. Except for the scale and the fact that the mechanism hangs from the ceiling, it's no different than a RipRap desktop 3D printer.
      • Fiero?

        Dude can you print me a Ferrari or Lamborghini instead. Or better yet can I send you 3d Audocad files of my personal Ferraroghini's body panels? Do you ship FedEx?
    • Scale is the key

      As I said above, the home printer won't be able to compete with industrial scale printers or dedicated molding machines.

      Large scale printers are certainly interesting, especially for items which can't be press or injection molded. But we are back at large scale factories, which is what Anderson was arguing against.

      A mixture of home printers and Aliaba could spur entrepeneurs to come up with new inventions more quickly - assuming the Patent System doesn't kill them in their tracks...
  • Too complex for the average idiot.

    Some people will manage to design their own plastic components, but for the average idiot, it will be too difficult.

    I haven't read Anderson's book, but I assume he must envisage people selecting pre-designed products on a menu, and letting their 3D printer spit them out. The average idiot still has to assemble the components, and the build quality will therefore be fairly low.
    • From the article

      I assume Anderson means that Entrepeneurs can get ideas off the ground quickly by experimenting and prototyping using a 3D printer.

      It won't be for everybody or probably more like personal computers, those that are interested and those that want to develop new ideas will invest in them, but the average Joe won't be getting one for several years...
    • Not true

      By your statement you obviously don't know you can print moving parts pre assembled.
      Nicholas Hoover
  • I agree

    The Spinning Jenny filled an immediate need. It allowed efficient home based production of yarn, which allowed weaving/sewing and knitting. The raw materials came from the sheep.

    I do not see a parallel need or opportunity today. The stuff that I use cannot be produced on a 3D printer. Perhaps with expensive post printing treatment, SOME higher quality parts can be produced in a commercial environment, but I think these cheaper versions of the printers will be mostly for arts and crafts types at home.

    I think 3D printers are great for speeding up mold and die production process. It would be a lot faster/cheaper than milling the shape.
  • Still Early in the 3D Printing Game

    I just started reading his book this week. Anderson is quick to point out that the technology is not ready to produce huge profits now. It's a matter of what it can lead to in the years to come, especially as people use it more and discover its capabilities in very specific niches.
  • Kinko's?

    So, what's next? Prototyping the design on your cheap little 'soft plastic' model at home, then send the file over to Kinko's to print the ceramic or stainless steel version like you would send over a photograph to become a 24x36 poster?

    Just bought the book from Audible. Looking forward to listening to it this weekend.
  • What 3D printing gets rid of

    is the need to raise large amounts of venture capital to prototype a new idea. It's a game changer...
    Tony Burzio
    • Yep

      that's how I see it as well. Prototyping the product, then presenting a finished product to financiers to get it put into production, either using an industrial 3D printer or traditional injection/press molding etc. depending on which is more efficient and cost effective.

      Even on an industrial scale, 3D printers won't be able to match the efficiency, speed and costs of injection molding, if you are producing items in the millions. For short runs or components which can't be made using traditional techniques (intertwined components, for example), they might make more economical sense.
  • thoughts

    "I must admit I don't understand how printing plastic things at home disrupts anything beyond my local '99 cent' store that has lots of plastic things that now I might choose to print at home, and it would probably cost me more than 99 cents - given the history of ink prices for my home printer"

    Agreed - I have my doubts as to whether this will really become a reality within my lifetime. Lots of barriers left to overcome - and considering the difficulty of overcoming the price of ink with regular printers, I don't wonder if these things will encounter the same issues.

    Not to mention there are HUGE forces trying to get us AWAY from personal ownership of our stuff, as evidenced by the way things are going with software, books, music, etc.
  • 3D Chocolate Printer

    The Delicious Future: 3D Chocolate Printer Finally Available for Purchase
  • Mass personalisation for everybody!

    I think the big innovation of 3d printing is the mass personalisation it allows.

    The cost of producing 1 product or 1000 is exactly the same. You have a good idea, you model it and print it at a reasonable price, you don't need to sell thousands to reduce your price x unit....
  • Customization

    I also believe that 3Dprinting will not be ubiquitous in homes. However, it WILL change manufacturing because of the opportunity for infinite customization. Witness how Americans went from drinking dishwater coffee to skinny double lattes hold the whip! And consumers are willing to pay for customization. THAT is the next industrial revolution.

    Companies like Shapeways in NYC and the MicroFabLab at Potomac Photonics in Washington DC are already delivering in short order your design choices!
    • Exactly

      And this litte TV-documentary agrees with you: