Editor's Note: Tomorrow’s Technology Today

As you all well know from reading this column, I’m a huge science fiction fan. We’ve already seen the Star Trek communicators and tablets turn into our modern-day smart phones and tablets. One of the technologies that has always intrigued me, however, was the Star Trek food processing unit. The characters would press a few buttons and viol! out would pop their food—dishes, utensils, and all.

Today’s 3D printing technology has the potential to really change the manufacturing process in the coming years. 3D printers can produce various components, building them one layer at a time directly from an AutoCAD file. Producing a prototype or a specific component can be as simple as pressing print in a digital file. And these printers, which cost upwards of a quarter of a million dollars a few years ago, are now available at a tenth of the price—really opening up the market opportunity to a much larger gamut of firms.

So why am I talking about 3D printers when the majority of WFI’s audience isn’t into manufacturing? Well, the printing industry is in the midst of the analog to digital transformation—on the 2D plane. Screen and offset jobs are migrating at an increasing rate to digital technology as the cost of the new equipment drops and as print buying habits change. We know the trends: short runs, faster turnarounds, versioning, integrated print, and interactive campaigns.

In the AEC market, we see all of these trends plus more. To remain a viable business, reprographers are redefining who they are and what they do. Maybe it’s moving into color graphics and color CAD. But for the more savvy companies, BIM, IPD, VCD, and 3D printing are the future of their business—and that future might only be a few years away.

Recently Autodesk’s CTO, Jeff Kowalsky, sat down for a video interview with Forbes’ Rich Karlgaard. (Check out the video interview here: onforb.es/jSuFLB.) While this kind of technology is still at the outskirts of most of our businesses, it’s interesting to see the parallels. The manufacturing market is on the cusp of its own analog-to-digital transition and this has the potential to open up to a much larger market—consumers.

Who knows, one day we might just walk up to a 3D printer—or food processor—in our home or office and ask it to make a cup of coffee—just the way we like it: in a ceramic mug with milk and sugar.

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