Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

IoT In Action : Will you be fuelling the next big industrial revolution in your own home?

May 24, 2016

Marching excitedly into my local photo processing store on the High Street to collect my developed photos is an enduring memory most of my generation will certainly understand.  Or perhaps it was the unmistakable thump of an overly heavy packet landing on the doormat that would alert the family the holiday snaps had arrived back from the printer. However, you never knew what you were going to get! 70% of my father’s photos were either out of focus, missing heads or at weird angles. Most would be covered in annoying mini-stickers providing advice on how to take photos!

Whilst it may sound inconveniently archaic now, it wasn’t actually that long ago. Synonymous with the home photographic industry, shops like BonusPrint were soon disappearing from the high street as modern technology such as digital cameras and home printing established themselves as the more convenient (and cheaper) alternative. Those ahead of the curve moved online and today still have a part to play in terms of creating more difficult to “home-produce” products such as bespoke calendars and personalised trinkets (e.g. VistaPrint, Snapfish). Less agile organisations who either refused to reinvent themselves or blindly clung to an aging business strategy (such as Kodak who filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012) ultimately met their demise. None is truer than that of Blockbuster Video rental.

It’s a story being repeated everywhere you look. Got a Kindle? Do you shop online? Want to rent a film? Listen to music? Everywhere we turn, established industries are being challenged.

Home manufacturing already exists if only in a slow, small scale form – but technology is improving every day

So what’s next? Well, the biggest challenge to the status quo or to businesses as we know them today has to be in manufacturing. This really is #IoT in action.

3D print technology is evolving at a breakneck pace. Entry cost to market for the consumer is plummeting, the cost of consumables is falling, whilst the quality of print is improving and websites offering blueprints are coming into existence daily – a quick online search yields over 100,000 results. I could make a chess piece, a working tool such as pliers or if I wanted to alert MI5, a weapon.

Parking the moral/ethical/legal issues for a moment, let’s look to see why this is the start of a new revolution and how industry should be preparing.

Let’s say my washing machine starts leaking and after researching the issue and identifying the fault I need a new part, in this case a rubber seal for the door. Today, this probably means I need to order and wait for a part or try to find/go to a specialist shop, or if I don’t fancy doing it myself calling an engineer (which is also fraught with additional concerns such as trust, reputation, availability, quality and cost).

Or using my 3D printer, I download the blueprint from the manufacturer after engaging one of their online engineers directly, print the part out and fit it whilst the engineer watches and guides me via #webex.

From a business perspective, it has to be a winner.

  • No longer does the business have to physically hold expensive stock for every machine they produce
  • Blueprints can be easily updated
  • The mean time to repair (MTTR) is substantially reduced to hours, not days
  • Online engineers can be available 24/7 from any location
  • I share with the world my pictures of me fixing my washing machine!

A 3D printed gun,  but can only be used once. Is this a moral and security issue?

OK, it may all sound a bit farfetched based on the current technical limitations of 3D printers, but if you told me 2 years ago that in I could soon get a MicroSD card of 512 GB, I would have laughed. If you told me someone had made headphones at home, I would have laughed even harder. Or that Amazon were looking at drone delivery, Virgin were to start offering space flights… I bet you could come up with a scenario right now where a 3D printer could change the way we live, work, play and learn.

Are there flaws or concerns?

Yes of course. As soon as anything goes digital, you are exposed to the consequences of piracy, fake sites and #security. There are also so many unanswered questions open to debate in this new industrial world:

  • How do businesses prevent blueprint file sharing?
  • How will security software evolve in light of this new medium?
  • Does the blueprint contain a Trojan or virus?
  • Is it sustainable to both consumer and business?
  • What’s the environmental impact?
  • Who is liable if a part I print & install fails?
  • Who assures the quality especially on the raw materials I choose to use?

3D printing creates objects. From a plastic toy through to working tools.  In fact, if you have a blueprint, anything is possible. And that includes illegal weapons. Does this mean then that my vision is in fact science fiction and the stuff of dreams? Will governments elect to ban 3D printers as a #security risk?

Maybe 3D printers will be the hobbyist’s pastime in the same context as brewing your own beer and wine at home – you can, but it’s a bit of a faff.

But just as printing your photos at home, digital cameras, e-books, tablets, smart devices and more continue to drive change in the world we live in, will 3D printers change the world of manufacturing, for good or for bad?

This is what happens when you bring together multiple solutions – #IoT, #Webex, #ciscosecurity and your imagination. Afterall, it was Einstein who said “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”.

What do you think? What uses could you see 3D printers being used for? Feel free to leave your ideas, thoughts and comments…

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