Technology has a profound impact on our quality of life. Some new technologies allow us to stay in contact with our loved ones, while others save us money or reduce unnecessary delays. The pace of technological change means that once in a while an innovation or entirely new form of technology drastically changes everything.
For our generation, I am confident that technology is additive manufacturing and 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing not only changes the way way we make things, but it affects the underlying business model of countless manufacturers, suppliers, and customers. Far beyond the plant floor, the impact of additive manufacturing will reach our communities, our schools, and our children.
In September I visited the University of Ottawa’s newly created Maker Space, a dedicated space for students, entrepreneurs, and the community to learn about 3D printing and its countless applications. Young people and adults are limited only by their own ingenuity, as they are encouraged to imagine, design and encode, and build plastic components and to every day problems.
On its own, there is nothing particularly revolutionary about the facilities at the University of Ottawa Maker Space. This educational facility is one of thousands that exist across North America. Even the fifth generation 3D printers used by the participants, state of the art as they might be, are limited to printing simple plastic components or toys. Nevertheless, the trajectory of this emerging industry is what holds the potential for a truly revolutionary technology. It is not inconceivable to imagine that with only a few years of research and development these same students could be using 3D printers to produce replacement human tissue, fully functional computer components, or new ultra-light structural materials for aerospace.
As it happens, the University of Ottawa Maker Space has a summer camp for children under the age of 10. During my visit, these kids were standing on chairs to see the printers at work. They were so interested in printing their Minecraft figurines that they had completely forgotten that this camp is a educational exercise. By the time these children enter the work force, the advanced 3D printers they’re currently using will have been replaced much the same as smart phones have replaced the clunky cellular telephones that once occupied the glove box of so many cars.
Watch these kids. They won’t just change the way things are made. They will change the way we trade and compete in the future economy.