The idea of the 3D printer is now becoming familiar, and home kits are available for hobbyists and entrepreneurs who have $350 to $2,000 to spend for printing out projects and prototypes on their kitchen tables. The Wikipedia article on 3D printing is particularly useful when prices are changing and applications are expanding rapidly, because Wikipedia articles are constantly being updated by enthusiasts.
The applications are apparently infinite: improved automotive parts (because the additive manufacturing process allows the creation of, for example, lighter components with better interior shapes for maximizing oil flows and allowing more rapid gear changes), innovative jewelry, and designer running shoes shaped from a scan of your feet.
But the most amazing applications are coming in the medical field, where companies like Organovo are using bioprinting to build not only replacement bones, but even skin and blood vessels from tiny bioink droplets, each containing tens of thousands of living cells. The technique relies on the cells’ self-organizing abilities to create living tissue within the framework laid down by the printer. Full organ replacement, starting with kidneys, is on the horizon. And the future use of the patient’s own stemcells is expected to dramatically reduce transplant rejection.
All this is another reminder that the world is changing ever faster. Disruptive technologies are everywhere. Within a business it highlights the need for flexibility of thinking, for rapid and accurate flow of information, and of course for a big-picture understanding of how the business and the industry operates.
And the changes will be even faster and more numerous next year, and even more so the year after. For better or worse, technological change will never slow down again, but will only speed up. For agile businesses and managers with a high level of business acumen, this is pure opportunity; for others, it is fatal.