3D printing is being hailed as the next industrial revolution. When once 3d printers were enormous more recent models such as the UP! 3D printer that IMPRINTS has purchased are table top sized and virtually portable. The price of these table top printers has also dropped significantly. An Up! will only set you back approx £1500 plus £39 per spool of Nylon. The suggestion is that in the not too distant future every office if not every home will have one of these beauties. In the early days of 3D printing the models they produced were considered prototypes to test parts or components before manufacturing them in a traditional way. Nowadays the quality of the models printed have become so good that they are the finished product and no further processing is required. The range of materials is also growing exponentially. In addition to the range of waxes, plastics and resins normally associated with 3D printing, new materials include ceramic, bronze infused steel, titanium, and my personal favourites Gold and Chocolate. I even came across one the other day that spits out Burritos See Burritobot.
These machines are also being described as sustainable, as in the case of the Makerbot where the first thing you can do on receiving your new machine is print yourself another one. 3D printing is also bringing with it an expanding range of sustainable materials including bio resins. Broader than this tho is the suggestions by the Economist that 3D printing is creating a new design language as 3D-printed items often have an organic, natural look. “Nature has come up with some very efficient designs, and often it is a good idea to mimic them,” says Wim Michiels, vice-president of Materialise, a Belgian firm that uses additive manufacturing to make a range of products, including medical devices. "By incorporating the fine, lattice-like internal structure of natural bone into a metal implant, for instance, it can be made lighter than a machined one without any loss of strength, integrate more easily with the patient’s own bones and can be crafted precisely to fit the intended patient. Last year surgeons in the Netherlands printed a new titanium jaw for a woman suffering from a chronic bone infection."
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of 3D printing for identity management is the suggestion that this revolution will be about mass personalisation rather than mass production. Traditionally identity has been expressed through clothing and jewellery, now however as contact has been increasingly remote and through the use of computers new forms of identity management have been developed. In this process however we have lost some of the diversity and richness of expressing our identities. This new 3D printing revolution has the potential to reintroduce the use of materials and symbolism to express our uniqueness and individuality. To give you an example. Emergency Medical Alert (EMA) jewellery can be worn to highlight to health professionals that someone suffers from a medical condition such as diabetes or anaphylaxis. Unfortunately much of this jewellery has a clinical and sterile appearance and many who would benefit from wearing this jewellery dont because of the fear that it stigmatises them. Recently with the combination of 3D printing and RFID technology it is possible to create EMA jewellery that is both universal and particular. See for example the work of IMPRINTS technician Dougie Kinnear. Where for example a ring can be unique to each individual according to their own individual style and yet the ring contains an RFID tag that identifies them and any conditions that they suffer from that can be picked up by health professionals with a scanner.
The big question in this new revolution is will the identity management industry embrace the potential for mass personalisation and the scope for individuals to express their own personality and character through 3D printing? If not why not? If you are aware of any other examples of 3D printing, mass personalisation and identity management I would love to hear about them.