The object to the right is what is called a “3D printer.” It can create any object out of plastic with nothing more than a digital description of the desired result and some composite material. The way it works is that successive cross-sections of the object are “printed” on top of one another until the whole piece is completed.
These machines currently cost 10s of thousands of dollars, but that cost is falling fast. And the implications of universal affordability are almost Star Trekian in their extent. Imagine if every home had one. Anything – ANYTHING – made out of plastic could be printed instantly, as long as you had the digital design of that item. And digital designs will be like MP3 files – an artist (or designer) creates the original model, then digitizes it, then sells it to a few fans. But soon, it’s available for free on dodgy file “sharing” sites like Limewire. So anyone can download the design and replicate it in their home for nothing more than the cost of their substrate material.
Granted, it will be a while before you can print yourself a Ferrari or even a frying pan. But think of all the cheap plastic stuff we have to pay for now that we could print: picnic utensils, plates and cups; Hallowe’en masks; cheap children’s toys; storage bins; clothes hangers; flip flops (maybe even Crocs!). That last example is telling: the raw material in a pair of Crocs probably costs about 2¢, but they cost upwards of $30 to purchase. A little bit of that money goes to compensate the company that designed them (analogous to the musician in our MP3 example), but that vast majority of the mark-up goes to the cost of paying the people to make them, the transportation from China, the redistribution to various retail outlets, and the retailer’s margin.
So even if you paid the designer, say 99¢ (the same as a song at iTunes), and considering the cost for your liquid polymer substrate, say $1, you can have a pair of Crocs instantly, in your home, perfectly fitted, for two bucks.
So to all you retailers out there, take a lesson from barkeepers: people can easily drink at home, but they choose to go to bars. Once people can get anything in your store at home, what are you going to do to get them to come to your store?