Tailor madeWe’ve heard quite a bit about 3D printing democratizing production and launching a New Industrial Revolution. Former Wired Editor Chris Anderson, perhaps the concept’s foremost evangelist, insists that 3D printing and Internet-based distributed ways of organizing design and production are about to unleash the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts, driving a resurgence of American manufacturing and the next wave in the global economy.

Many other analysts, industry participants and observers have made similar claims. And an equal number of skeptics have brushed off these predictions as ridiculous and nothing more than hype, asserting that personal 3D printer technology isn’t ready for prime time, and won’t be for many years.

We don’t agree with that assessment because the velocity at which open-source tinkerers, makers and entrepreneurs are advancing personal 3D printer technology is accelerating fast. But let’s set aside the technology argument. There are other important trends supporting the coming "Democratization of Manufacturing."

Scale Implosion

A lot of very smart analysts think the large-scale systems of state, finance and resources are on the precipice of collapsing and leaving people in the West, especially in America, without the energy, entitlements, goods and services they are accustomed to having.

They cite peak oil and the inevitability of much higher energy costs, unsustainable deficits and public debt, and a permanently contracting economy that is visible if one looks beyond the stock market bubble, state-sponsored re-inflation of the housing market and media reports of “recovery.”

If these concepts are alien to you, dear readers, we recommend spending a few hours perusing the blogs of Charles Hugh Smith, James Kunstler, Chris Martenson and Jim Quinn, to name just four people advising anyone who will listen to become more self-sustaining and to “get local” before the economic pain sets in.   

Kunstler, author of several books including Too Much Magic, has written extensively about how the American Big Box Retail model has destroyed local economic networks and the livelihoods of people who wanted bargain shopping. “America made itself hostage to bargain shopping and then committed suicide,” he recently blogged. “We’re on the brink of scale implosion. American life is about to get smaller…”