3D printing : Engine of a radical transformation of capitalism

Capitalism was born in the late 19th century, built on industrial tools, which requires huge capital.

3D printing dramatically changes the game by allowing the production of objects without the industrial constraints and huge investments. that leads to mass production.

In the coming years, 3D printers will produce parts in multiple materials for a cheap investment price. As an example, FDM 3D printing technology, the best known technology to the public, has seen its price divided by 10 in just 5 years.

Yes, Additive manufacturing, is not as fast and productive but is it useful in a society where production and consumption patterns have been disrupted?

3D printing could fundamentally change our patterns of production and consumption

With the widespread use of 3D printing, the pattern may shift to small structures, even individuals who will engage in products on demand manufacturing. As an example, additively.com services, references the various production units based on their skills, materials available, suggesting possible changes in the supply chain and how we’ll produce tomorrow .

Because it does not require significant capital, 3D printing allows the development of manufacturing plants on a much broader social base than today. In this sense 3D printing appears as the “undertaker” of capitalism as we know it and the igniter of a “distributed” capitalism.

Indeed for a growing part of the population, especially the one that fits into the current FabLife or the “Maker Movement”, 3D printing is a great manufacturing tool:

  • to choose, master and produce according to their specific needs and uses,
  • to fight planned obsolescence,
  • to differentiate with respect to the mass consumption by customizing, recreating local employment

This could weaken more or less the consumption based current economy. By printing 3D I free myself from supplier’s or brand’s monetary constraints. And more, the value of an object shifts from exchange value to usage value.

This change in the relationship of the human to the object is closely linked to the development of FabLabs in the world and the popularity of the Maker movement and the concept of FabLife.

3D printing is part of the FabLabs, movement “Maker” and FabLife

Created in the late 90s by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT, the FabLabs based on the principle of open source and collaboration. This experiment originally had the objective of making available expensive manufacturing tools, and studies what will be their usage.

Given the success, guidelines hosted by the FabFoundation, was created to promote this concept worldwide. Today over 400 FabLabs following these exist in the world.

In line with this concept a multitude of places “FabLabs-alike” have developed, either in an associative or commercial form, follow the fundamental principles: collaboration, sharing of knowledge, skills and course materials.

What is a “maker”?

People who hack hardware, business models, and living arrangements to discover ways of staying alive and happy Even When the economy is falling down the toilet”(Chris Anderson).
They invent the world of tomorrow while recycling one yesterday.(Special Soonsoon FabLife)

The “Makers” were born as a reaction to an increasingly complex society, where global economic activity « deleted » the human. They’re looking for meaning, and aspire to fulfill they’re need while banning standardized products.

The “Makers” merge the DIY (DIY), hacking, digital, web, 3D printing and digital tools, while having in mind the environmental impact. They revisit old techniques, adapt or reinvent them for a new usage. They “hack” new technologies or products to improve performance, to suit their needs or to customize.

The third key concept is of FabLife. This concept combines in itself the concepts of FabLabs and “Makers” and springs from several observations. Today the economic system no longer allows one to perform work throughout his working life; traditional benchmarks shatter; use predominates, making property less critical and less desirable; the consumer society and mass products no longer impress; one feels often cluttered with too full of useless objects. The individual has only one solution: to tinker!

Beware, this is a “DIY” under Levi-Strauss, not any tinkering. Levi-Strauss defines it as the action of

dealing with «what’s on the table”, meaning a finite group of heterogeneous tools and materials, which mix is not related to the actual project neither to any project in particular, but is the unnecessary result of all the opportunities that past by (The Savage Mind, Plon, 1962)

This is the “DIY” that Apollo 13 astronauts did to survive in space by tinkering the oxygen recycling system, as Jim Lovell said : “The contraption was not very handsome, aim it worked” and guess what ?

Tinkering takes on a different dimension.

In the twentieth century we bought, replaced, consumed. The twenty-first century could well see the dedication of the handyman or “Maker” — for all the reasons mentioned earlier, and because our planet can not sustain us without that we all became Makers !

Still confidential in its use, 3D printing is growing rapidly and carries the seeds of a revolution in our economy and our society. This revolution will arrive even faster as many signals (economic, marketing, political, social …) combines to indicate that more and more people aspire to not be just plain buyers but to take control of their consumption. Perhaps we shall be soon ready for another form of capitalism, ready to move from a consumer society to a society of usage, ready to become consumhackers.