Technology is moving forward so rapidly that if you blink once, you will miss some significant advances. I am amazed at the products coming via convergence. As each new product is introduced, the supply chain takes on new characteristics in the form of supporting and aftermarket opportunities. Of particular note are the 3D printing technologies involving DIY (do-it-yourself) equipment, software, and supplies.
For those of you not familiar with this technology, let me put you in the time machine and take you back to the first Xerox Corp. (NYSE: XRX) copiers. Which of us did not at some point say to a fellow employee that someday there will be copiers that will copy or create objects like the Star Trek replicators? We're already working on the virtual reality research that will make the holodeck a reality. In fact, using 3D printing, based upon mostly plastic type materials, objects can be made from computer-aided design (CAD) programs quite easily.
By strengthening these plastics with composite type formulations, the resultant product can be much more than just a model, but can be sufficiently durable to be put into everyday practical use. Products could include plastic replacement parts for home appliances, furniture, and as I witnessed recently, hand tools that could take the full torque and pressure stress encountered by metal equipment. Add to this working part intermeshing gears, rotating cams, rods, and wheels, and there is no limit to the number of practical, usable, and inexpensive products that will one day be sold in a retail store near you.
The most incredible advantage is that all the moving and intermeshing parts can be made with a single setup and at a single printing. No more costly casting or mold creations and subsequent modifications. Now all we need to do is tweak a software program to get things just right... the first time. That fact alone is huge.
Many CAD programs have multiple part assembly simulations that will look for motion and fit interference and stress points before a product is made. Now imagine downloading all the 3D printer supplies material characteristics into the CAD library, and soon the engineer will be able to examine the 3D-printed part or assembly behavior under programmed stress simulations. There will be no guesswork before creating a prototype, and the material cost and setup time will be minimized.
I can hear the supply chain rattling with this new innovation. Soon we should see appliances and other consumer product manufacturers charging for CAD data relating to replacement parts. The CAD data would be uploaded into a USB- or Bluetooth-connected 3D printer loaded with the manufacturer's specified materials, and within minutes, your own personal replicator spits out the part you need to fix that washing machine door hinge.
Now we have talked about the holodeck and the replicator, but I think this is getting about as close to the transporter as we will ever experience. "Scotty, beam me down the 3D code for the deframbulator core pin. And when you get back from Risia 6, I will need you to program the replicator materials for transparent aluminum." This is Captain Douglas -- out.
But seriously, it really doesn't stretch the imagination to consider the supply chain impact. Replaceable printer cartridges that are filled with a manufacturer's code identifiable mixes. There will be Internet stores featuring 3D CAD, ready to print parts and repair depots with the only inventory and capital equipment being material cartridges and various 3D printers.
Our current vending machines are about as close as we are going to get to food replicators any time soon, but you can still put in your dollar and say into the microphone, "B5," and quicker than a wink, out pops your potato chips. Absolutely amazing! I can see 3D printer vending machines stocked with materials to make some consumables like sunglasses.
The picture selection guide will be your chosen style that you can modify in real time. When you press "Design Done," you will hear a little whirring and some mechanical movement, and then you will hear a fan cooling down your customized pair of shades. The machine will say, "Thank you," and out will slide a tray with your new shades. Let your imagination soar. It will never overtake the realities that are overtaking us every day.