Over the last year or so, it’s been pretty common to hear big name business thinkers discuss 3D printing with a mixture of begrudging respect, simmering hostility and all-out terror. To hear people like, say, legal expert Josh Hornick promise a future of boundless piracy as the technology becomes more widespread, one would be forgiven for thinking business development and 3D printing were opposing forces.
So it’s refreshing to hear Mike McNamara, Tesco CIO, make not just welcoming but entirely positive noises about what 3D printing could mean for the supermarket giant. In San Francisco for the Oracle Open World event McNamara insisted that, even if consumers do gain the ability to 3D print products at home, ‘Physical stores won’t disappear. To see this as a fight between physical and digital is to see it all wrong.’
McNamara believes the future will see 3D printers in Tesco shops, allowing customers to print on-order directly in store, which will be perfect for those buying small products or parts. Rather than fretting about piracy, the CIO sees additive manufacturing as becoming part and parcel of what his company offers, in the same way the internet lead to the rise of click and collect shopping.
In the main, McNamara’s predictions seem on the money. In fact, he correctly asserts that the day when 3D printers are an ubiquitous item in every shop and home in the first world is a long, long way off, if it comes at all, showing he is not dazzled by some of the more hyperbolic assertions being made about the processes’ availability.
This does not mean big retailers should ignore the potential for piracy completely when it comes to 3D printing. As Napster and Pirate Bay showed, if you give people the ability to steal with no consequences, a very large percentage of the usually law-abiding population will do so with zero moral hang-ups. One of the reasons ‘sharing’ albums and movies became so chaotically widespread, however, was down to the inability, not to mention reluctance, of the music and movie businesses to adapt to new technologies as they became available. If the major labels had got on board with the kids downloading MP3s back in the late 90s instead of trying to sue them off the internet, the bloodbath of the last ten years that saw many of the biggest labels merge or crumble might not have been so devastating.
Therefore, hearing such a prominent business brain looking at the possibilities of 3D printing as oppose to dwelling on the dangers must be considered good news.