At the moment 3d printing is a silly plaything, high tech “educational play” for wealthy families or nerds.
But the technological challenges to decentralized production are falling fast. Size is at 1m, materials include metal and ceramic, complex objects with overhangs can be supported by secondary soluble materials, and multi-material printers are already consumer electronics.
Your local photo shop will soon have a 3d annex, where you can replicate your favorite sneakers when they wear out, replace the broken plate to the set no longer offered by the retailer, and print the broken cabinet handle so you don’t have to go all the way to Ikea.
And the significance is much greater. We can already shop 3d models online at thingiverse and turbosquid.com. In fact you can take the same tiara design you downloaded to wear in 2nd life to the printer and get one to wear in this life.
If we can have exactly what we want, in the size and color we want, with a small modification, a lot of our retail expenditures will fall away, as will surely some of the ability to manipulate buying preferences, and, hopefully, wasteful overproduction.
The many educated product design graduates who currently have very few job opportunities, and fewer opportunities to manufacture their own designs independently will be able to offer their designs directly and independently to a global market, and develop customizations with clients.
But it’s useful to remember that the original 3d custom designers were: artisans, who brought decades and generations of skill, craft, and expertise about materials to producing the needs and desires of customers whose every acquisition would be bespoke, personal, and unreplicated.