It was a headline no self-identifying Maker could refrain from clicking: “3-D printing will explode in 2014, thanks to the expiration of key patents.” The news confirmed every wild hacker hope about the future of do-it-yourself manufacturing. Costs will fall, quality will improve. If you thought that your $1,500 MakerBot 3-D printer was cool, just wait until next year, when you will get your greedy hands on a $500 Chinese equivalent capable of fabricating widgets that are twice as nice.
So here comes the Third Industrial Revolution! A 3-D printer in every garage! That old mass production paradigm, where everything gets outsourced to the country with the cheapest labor? Busted! A new era of creative empowerment is just around the corner. Manufacturing has been democratized, and nothing will ever be the same.
Yep, more than a few container-ships packed to the gills with hype have accompanied the rise of 3-D printing and the “Maker economy.” But there’s a reason for that, as anyone who has spent time wandering through the excited hubbub of a Maker Faire knows.