It’s like something from a science fiction story: Amazon’s just announced a web page offering real “3-D printing”. I wasn’t even sure what that meant — but it’s a revolutionary new way to buy things that haven’t even been created yet…and a real glimpse into the future.
Here’s a four-sentence summary of the way the process works. We live in a world where technology now makes it possible to print more than just ink on a piece of paper. Technology now can also print out substances, using a computer-controlled machine, following a very precise pattern. The pattern is specified by the user, allowing lots of ways to customize a product before it’s even been built. It’s only when you hit the “print” button that your desired product springs into existence!
But the idea could change our world, transforming the way that everything gets made — and then sold. (“Shop the Future!” reads the slogan on the front page of Amazon’s store.) Amazon’s announcement notes that 3-D printing allows vendors to sell “a potentially infinite number of products” — each one customized by the purchaser — and all at very reasonable prices. Mixee Labs (one of Amazon’s partners) calls this “the app store for the physical world”, since you’re not buying digital products, but things! And you can choose the material for your purchase before it’s even been produced, as well as its color, its size, whatever text or image you want to include…
Print your initials on steel cuff links! Make a dog tag personalized with the name of your own dog! “Customization gives customers the power to remix their world,” explains the co-founder of Mixee Labs, “and we want to change the way people shop online.” But it’s gone from being a theoretical concept to something you can utilize today.
For example, imagine buying a bobblehead that’s been customized so it looks like you! You can choose the bobblehead’s eye color, hair color, and hairstyle, and even add eyeglasses. (Even the spring inside the bobblehead is generated by the printer, and it’s only when the bobblehead is produced.) “Turn yourself, friends, family, and coworkers into bobble heads,” reads the product’s description on Amazon — which suggests it as the ultimate personalized gift.
“The age of 3D printing is just beginning and you can experience it first hand!” reads another Amazon web page. It’s offering an iPhone case with a pattern of plastic that’s described as “rivulets of blood.” Besides red, it’s also available in black, blue, and white… But like any fashion accessory, part of the thrill is the rarity of this accessory. It’s not mass produced; there are only as many in existence as there are customers who ordered them. And you’ll always know that they were built from scratch — automatically! — using a 3-D printer….
Amazon’s 3-D Print Store offers more than 200 products to choose from. But none of them exist — yet — until you actually click the yellow “Add to Cart” button. Then behind the scenes, Amazon and their partners will go to work assembling your chosen substance, molecule by molecule, into the appropriate pattern. It could change everything — the way all products are created and then sold — and it’s just started happening at Amazon.