Will 3D printing and crowdsourcing bring the industrial revolution home?

November 9th, 2012 by

microtask_makerbotIn Europe and the US right now, almost no issue commands more air time than persistently high unemployment rates (other than what Kate Middleton is wearing, of course). But beyond the depressing jobless figures, new trends may be changing labor markets, and the economy as a whole.

Crowdsourcing was one of 2011’s buzzwords, but its potential is still largely unrealized. 3D printing looks set to digitize manufacturing. Old people – many of whom can now turn on computers – may not be able to retire as soon as we thought. These converging trends may change the way we work for the better – if managed properly.

The factory moves out, and then comes home again

Since the industrial revolution, the concept of a job hasn’t changed too much. Most people spend weeks searching job ads for a new boss, then the next forty years trying to avoid him (usually he’s still a him). The assembly line was born and then left home to see the world, taking manufacturing jobs with it. Technology has made workplaces more efficient (and made slacking off on company time more fun), but robots haven’t really taken over workplaces like we thought they would. Indeed, most of our colleagues are still frustratingly human.

But the concept of a job is changing rapidly. Crowdsourcing platforms like Freelancer mean millions of people don’t have to deal with a boss or colleagues anymore. Retirees and stay-at-home moms can rejoin the workforce, from the comfort of their homes.

3D printing will soon allow us to produce much of what we need locally. Rather than sending away to China for a spare part, companies like Ponoko will allow us to download its design and print it at home. Overseas factories will still exist where they are more efficient, but as Ponoko’s founder, Dave ten Have said “we are going to see a rebalancing – a considered move away from the mass centralization we’ve experienced in the last 30 years.” Products will have greater cultural relevance and intimacy.

The power of the people

Like 3D printing, the potential of crowdsourcing is enormous. Almost every day new applications for it pop up, from composing ringtones to curing AIDS.

Currently, many of these solutions are more gimmicky than great. If any of you clicked on the ringtone crowdsourced above (and didn’t smash your computer trying to make it shut up) you’ll know what I mean. But the industry is still in its infancy. As it matures, and its strengths are understood and applied more effectively, we can expect the co-operation and efficiency it facilitates to deliver increasingly powerful results.

For those of us in the crowdsourcing industry, the simultaneous rise of 3D printing is particularly exciting because it gives more power to the individuals in our crowds. This opens the door for new forms of crowdsourcing, especially in manufacturing, which is predicted to be a major area of growth. Add crowdfunding to the mix and suddenly any product that appeals to a niche is possible.

As with any major disruptive shifts, these changes will create winners and losers. Like any industry, 3D printing and crowdsourcing will need careful regulation. We want people printing money from home, not guns. But those governments who also encourage innovation and growth in these industries will be most likely to benefit from them. Their depressing conversations about local unemployment rates may soon become uplifting success stories.

  • Ashwin Bhambri

    I am really keen to understand 3d printing in depth is there a reference post to this topic

  • Kathy Blackmore

    With DRM patents already been filed, the development of 3D printing is going to be a struggle between legality, safety and innovation.

    Let’s just hope it ends with with more winners than losers.

    Kathy @ Cartridge Shop

  • CA

    Political science can also give arguments about why it could be a sort of political mutation: http://yannickrumpala.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/rumpala-additive-manufacturing-as-global-remanufacturing-of-politics-_blog-version_1.pdf

  • http://twitter.com/aleksj Aleks Jakulin

    3D printers are now affordable. Now we need a VisiCalc for 3D printers – a killer app that made home computers useful.

  • Andrei

    I think patents and copyright might be an issue – with zillioons of patents it can be tricky.. however.. remember the music industry, images and so on? Breaking 100 patents or copyrights a day might become a de facto standard. The world is moving way faster than the bureaucrats.

    I see potential in 3D printers.. I see democratization and open competition moving into manufacturing – an industry once reserved to big large scale companies. I see amazon offering JIT manufacturing similar to printing books. I see manufacturing clouds where you can order 10 pieces today and 100000 tomorrow.

  • Kathy Blackmore

    Yes, I agree. Innovation cannot be stopped, and it shouldn’t when used right.

  • http://twitter.com/sinatra54 Stuart Armstrong

    Nice to see some comments and true “bi-lateral” blog from CEO. (vs those 1 way pulpits)

    Forbes article about how HP may find some “Blue Ocean” in the 3D printer/design market. Ironically the cartridges and printers themselves could be made by the 3D’s layering-slow but steady. Printer making printers. (the human organ part is scary).


    As Jeremy Rifkin has pointed out we are moving to a distributed, localized “sharing” ecomomy and crowdsourcing is going to be a big part of that new “re-distribution” of the earths limited “natural resources” and unlimited “intellectual resources”.



    Stuart Armstrong, Canada

  • paopao

    3D printing is generally used in the manufacturing and commercial development of engineering, such as the defense industry, aerospace and other important parts of the high-end manufacturing, engineering and manufacturing of small quantities or single product production. With 3D printing technology continues to mature, the cost has been effectively controlled, cost reduction means that the expansion of the audience, the further expansion of its market.

    Emma @ Epson Ink Cartridges

  • http://www.slkosher.com/ Kosher Cruises

    It’s only a matter of time before everyone has a 3D printer in their home. I’m takling 25+ years from now.. but it’s going to happen eventually.