Manufacturing guy-at-large.

The 3D Printer version of an iPhone

Added on by Spencer Wright.

The funny thing about Jobs' 2007 iPhone keynote is that they hype-iest thing he said turned out to be absolutely true. The iPhone isn't a phone at all: it's a totally revolutionary general purpose device.  

Indeed, Jobs undersells the product. He says it's three things - an iPod, a phone, and an internet communications device. In fact, the iPhone is far more than that. It's the most general purpose user interface that we had ever seen, and one that enabled whole new categories of interaction - ones that go well beyond "internet communications."

3D printers are a wholly different animal, and they attack the problems of their industry from the opposite angle as the iPhone did. 

To me, a MakerBot is to manufacturing as Tinder is to mobile computing. The iPhone is the layer that we use to access Tinder - and hundreds of thousands of other apps. It's a platform that enables digital interaction. MakerBot is just a node in a manufacturing paradigm.

The MakerBot Replicator is a tool that can be used for a very specific purpose - laying down beads of PLA and ABS to form a physical object. All the layers above it - the CAD software used to design a part, the web interface used to share and transmit those design files, the slicer used to translate a solid file into GCode, the embedded circuits and software that the Replicator uses to interpret and execute GCode - those will be what's driving changes of massive proportion to the way we think about product development, fabrication and distribution.

I believe that the rise of 3D printing will - and has already begun to - necessitate much needed advances in general manufacturing. But it's what 3D printers are driving us towards that's the real cool shit. The printers themselves are just nodes.