Off-world colonization and terraforming. Cheap and smart housing. Back to the Future-style clothing and Exo-skeletons. Programmatic nutrition.
For the most part, the fairy tales of the future are things far beyond our abilities. But additive manufacturing paired with the IoT will change all that.
Instead of pointing out the obvious limitations of both 3D printing and IoT now, what if we the question "Which scientific advancements, and practical realities, will we fail to achieve without them?"
Technology giants are getting behind 3D and IoT. The new breed of coming devices will take inspiration from both fields: additive manufacturing will provide the method, and IoT will broaden the context for that use and provide adaptibility to it.
3Dp is the Wheel of Our Time
Additive manufacturing is capable of building devices more economically, more quickly, and more easily testable and does have the potential to change the way we consume and use material goods.
Like Henry Ford’s assembly line, 3D printing’s power comes from reconceptualizing the manufacturing process. In conventional manufacturing, called subtractive, you remove everything you don’t want from the source material. Timber is a good example: you begin with a block, the source material, and whittle away until the remaining shape is what you want.
To make the same sculpture in the newer paradigm, you’d begin with nothing at all and then, incrementally, add material. In its nascent form of consumer-grade 3D printing, this is thermoplastic fiber, called filament, which deposits as semi-solid, thin layers that compare to the thickness of ordinary copy paper. The model emerges as the layers are deposited, cool, and finally fuse, each one atop the last.
This approach holds some major advantages. Since all the material adds up to the model, there’s little waste. That makes it inherently economical because, to return to the earlier example of timber, there are no chips of wood on the floor.
Nothing that isn’t needed is made, and there are no molds or associated tools that have to be built before manufacturing can begin. This last point holds huge implications for distribution channels and other facets of manufacturing practice.
The Shape of Things to Come
If additive manufacturing is a smarter way to build, a faster way in many cases, and the one we, the humans, will be using in the future, then 3D+ IoT is how the machines will go where no man has gone before.
IoT ups the ante one order of magnitude higher: what if these devices can tell each other what they need to be and relay that information to a manufacturing center that can adapt to build that, in only a matter of moments?
Business and industry are already taking guesses at which device and technologies will create a global but granular IoT:
[An] opportunity to apply cognitive computing not only to high-powered servers crunching enterprise data, but also to new consumer devices that need to see, sense, and interpret complex information in real time. [Ed: emphasis mine.]
Together, they promise to create adaptable manufacturing centers that will create devices, once-isolated, and connect them in a network which can perceive and dictate the shape of their future iterations, and in so doing, create perhaps the first context where pre-determined, fixed-use production lines, as discrete entities, are irrelevant.