Imagine going into a Home Depot, but instead of being the size of a football field it’s half that. Why? Because the lumber and floral section remain, but the hardware section has been reduced to a few touch screen kiosks attached to 3D printers. You’ll find the part you need quickly without wandering or having to locate an orange apron. You may even be able to scan an old part and have the computer find the replacement. What? You only need one piece of that toilet repair kit? No problem! Want to monogram those drawer pulls? We can do that too! Welcome to the world of mass customization made possible by 3D printing. You get exactly what you need right when you want it. No waste, no inventory, no shipping cost, reduced store sizes and other benefits galore.
Of course my home improvement scenario is just one example. C&E News published an article called “3D Printers Move Into Research Labs” about how scientists are using 3D printing to make custom reactors and other vessels. You can make custom decorations, bobble head dolls or make any orthopedics fit perfectly. In the new world more choice won’t mean bigger stores or larger inventories, it’ll just mean larger databases and some automated CAD alterations. Our kids will laugh at our non-customized uncomfortable Bluetooth headsets and the fact that we’d buy a box of screws when we only needed two. Now just wait for us not even having to go to the store and just doing it all from home. Sound like science fiction? Tell that to a guy from 1910 after you tell him “a company named after a river in South America will let you browse millions of items through a movie screen, order something without ever talking to clerk using imaginary money called a credit card and then that item will then be dropped by someone you’ve never met at your front door the next morning for about the same price as going to the store yourself.” Crazy talk.