The Economist has devoted its April 21st issue to The Third Industrial Revolution. The magazine's editors and reporters present a stirring account of the merging interface between IT and manufacturing that is allowing anyone to become his or her own mini-manufacturer. It is now possible to design software that will instruct the creation of a physical product, layer by layer, that pops out of the printer just like we now do with text. 3-D printing is already being used in hundreds of companies to produce commercial products.
What the editors at The Economist missed is that 3-D printing in only a small, but important, part of the larger Third Industrial Revolution that will not only transform manufacturing, but also the very way we conduct the totality of commercial life in the first half of the 21st Century.
As I mentioned in my Huffington Post blog on March 28th, and in the cover article of the March/April issue of The World Financial Review, what makes 3-D printing both viable and revolutionary is the coming together of internet technology and renewable energy in a new Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure.
Recall that in the 19th Century, the invention of steam powered printing presses dramatically reduced the cost of printing, providing a quick and inexpensive communication medium for managing a complex, coal powered, steam driven First Industrial Revolution. And in the 20th Century, the telephone provided an instantaneous and agile communication medium to manage centralized mass production manufacturing processes and coordinate supply chains and logistics operations across national markets.
In the coming era, millions of homes, offices, and workshops will be equipped with the appropriate IT and renewable energy harvesting technologies to generate their own green energy on site, use it to power their own 3-D printing operations, and share any surplus electricity across a continental green electricity Internet.
Third Industrial Revolution entrepreneurs will be able to market their products on internet sites like Etsy, at virtually no cost, and use electric and fuel cell transport powered by green energy generated on site to deliver finished goods to regional markets.
The democratization of information, energy, manufacturing, marketing, and logistics is ushering in a new economic paradigm. The democratization of commerce takes us beyond the centralized, top-down, business practices of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions and into the distributed and collaborative business practices of the Third Industrial Revolution. The great commercial shift from hierarchical to lateral power is a game changer. 3-D printing is an important component of the larger Third Industrial Revolution just now unfolding around the world.
With both presidential campaigns now turning their attention to the question of how to re-industrialize the economy and jump start growth, the time has arrived for a much needed national conversation on how to transition into a Third Industrial Revolution and a new economic era.