Last week I teamed up with fellow Advance Queensland Digital Champion (AQDC) and resident of Moreton Bay, Kate vanderVoort, to discuss the latest digital trends in social media and 3D printing with local businesses in our area. This was hosted by the newly formed Moreton Technology Alliance (MTA), a group of local business owners who are passionate about the region and driving innovation here.
Having been an AQDC for a couple of years now, it was great to team up with newbie to the program Kate, and deliver our insights into what may at first seem like 2 different topics. Kate began by sharing her experience with helping businesses engage with their customers through social media, and how businesses that do this well are finding that their communities of followers begin to act as customer service agents and brand ambassadors, solving fellow customer problems using the immediacy of social media. In Kate’s words, it’s a good problem to have – until your employees start feeling like their jobs are in jeopardy!
This idea of building online communities linked well to my later discussion around Intellectual Property (IP) and how online communities of designers like myself are tapping into the growing libraries of files on websites like Thingiverse and Pinshape to replace broken products, upgrade them, or modify them to perform new functions, sharing our designs for free, or for small payments just like buying a song on iTunes.
I used the example of GoPro mounts which retail at $29AUD for a pack of 6 genuine mounts, or I can 3D print 6 for $1 in material cost (pictured above from Thingiverse). Sure it’s not quite as perfectly fitting, and the material might break, but I could print 174 mounts for the same cost as 6 genuine mounts – essentially a lifetime supply from my own desktop factory. And this is just from a $400 machine, what if I have a better machine or material?
How do businesses deal with this? Will they be forever chasing people around the world with cease and desist letters (lawyers would be rubbing their hands together!)? Or will businesses shift their thinking and embrace this change, in the same way Hasbro’s My Little Pony has become an online community through Shapeways, where children and adults alike are encouraged to design and sell their own My Little Pony creations?
I certainly don’t profess to have the answers (in short I’m not a big believer of IP even without the 3D printing aspect), however the point of this example, along with examples of projects happening from a variety of industries embracing 3D printing, was to inspire the audience at this MTA event, and encourage further discussion. Which I believe it did given the questions from members afterwards, and realisation that this technology really will affect anyone developing physical products in some way or another.
We also discussed opportunities for businesses to collaborate with universities in order to develop research programs into technologies like 3D printing, with the Australian Government recently changing funding models for universities to emphasise greater links with industry, and grants announced for SME’s to fund innovation in partnership with universities and researchers. Follow the links to find out more information.
Thanks to MTA for inviting me to speak, I hope to be fielding a few questions in the near future from businesses who have been inspired to take the 3D printing plunge!
– Posted by James Novak