Reasons for Optimism I (Long-term)

by | Oct 4, 2012 | General

We still live in an age of technological miracles

Even though we expect very little from the stock market over the next year or two, we remain very optimistic about the long-term potential for our economy. Revolutionary technology is the main driver. The Internet is the primary tool, but the technologies we find most interesting will change our physical world and might create a renaissance in US manufacturing.

In this and the next two notes we will discuss three technologies that promise to drive big shifts in the world economy:

  • 3D Printing
  • Robotics
  • Fossil fuels extracted from shale

We’ll start with 3D printing, probably the least understood of the three technologies on our list.

When I first heard about 3D printing I had a very hard time wrapping my brain around the idea. The picture below is a highly simplified illustration of how three dimensional objects and parts could be made by laying down very thin layers of plastics, ceramics, or powdered metals. So far 3D printing is mainly used for prototyping— creating a one-off copy of a part allowing testing or project bidding. But in the future it may be a way to manufacture just about anything we can dream up.

The best place to learn more about this technology is the Wikipedia page. Just copy and paste the following link in your browser. The videos are particularly good at showing what is possible.

The best analogy I can think of from the past, is offset printing and its replacement, laser printing. When I started my first business in the 1970’s the minimum number of color brochures that could be printed economically was 5,000. The printing plates and set-up costs made shorter runs prohibitively expensive per page.

Now we print in color at our desks if we have to, but increasingly we’re not printing anything. The brochure is on the web and we read them on our iPads or laptops. 

The offset printing business is gone, but the costs of launching and promoting a business have collapsed and on balance, the economy is much better off for the change.

We think 3D printing might have the same effect over the years in design and eventually, manufacturing. By eliminating tooling costs many more products can be designed and built. We all will win in that world.

Best regards,

Daniel A. Ogden

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