Humanity may be on the cusp of a game-changing innovation, whose impact could be even greater than that of the steam engine or electri-city. The potential of 3D printing will be showcased in London this week, whereby one can print not text and photos but full-fledged objects. With it, for example, one can print out one’s own (fully customisable) clothes and jewellery, sculpture or musical instruments. This technology, called additive manufacturing, uses plastic resin or other chemicals to produce three-dimensional objects in the same way an inkjet printer turns out two-dimensional impressions. Such a technology differs radically from traditional manufacturing, where machines churn out millions of identical products.

As the technology evolves, one can visualise a future where one could print out cellphones, cars, or even houses. Such a 3D technology would surely be a game changer, as it would transform the way we work by making factories redundant, shifting production to small communities and changing urbanisation trends. It would reduce prices as one wouldn’t have to pay for labour, shipment and retailing charges; besides, the new technology reduces material needs to as little as one-tenth of that used in conventional methods. It could move manufacturing back to developed countries; at the same time, the technology could equally be adapted by developing countries to produce the things that they need. Additive manufacturing is truly a disruptive technology whose impact is hard to predict, just as nobody could have truly predicted the future impact of the steam engine or electricity when they were first invented.