“Technology has the ability to transform every industry on our planet and today Additive Manufacturing, or 3D Printing is on the cusp of transforming industries including fashion, retail, logistics, healthcare, agriculture and even warfare.”
No industry has had a greater impact on humanity and society as agriculture has and we can trace its earliest origins back 50,000 years to the Aborigines in Australia who regularly used fire to burn vegetation in an effort to change the composition of the plant and animal species in an area, turning dry Rainforest into Savannah that helped them increase the population of grass eating animals like the Kangaroo. It wasn’t until 12,000 years ago though that man really managed to domesticate plants and animals for our own benefit and agriculture in the true sense of the word was born.
Humanities ability to tame nature and secure a dependable food source has been one of the key driving forces behind the explosion in population growth but today one technology is set to fundamentally change our relationship with the land and end our need to cultivate plants and breed livestock forever.
3D Printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing has existed for decades but up until five years ago it was a niche production technology being used by companies like NASA and Formula 1 to create hi-spec bespoke components but as the technology became better understood, faster and cheaper to replicate the number of use cases began to expand.
Fundamentally everything that we use and consume has been manufactured – whether that’s as a result of a nature’s own manufacturing process, like growing a Raspberry or creating a Genome or a human one such as the manufacture of a phone or a car. If we can understand how a ‘product’ is constructed and we have the right tools and technologies then we can manufacture anything.
Today we are using 3D Printers to produce a wealth of products from jet components, guns, designer DNA, human organs and prosthetics all the way through to in vitro meat, sweets, pasta and fruit but we are at the beginning of the 3D Printing journey. While the production of some of these products is still far too slow and costly to compete with the open market as the technology gets faster, cheaper and more ubiquitous these gaps will begin to vanish so while today it might take ten minutes to print a single Raspberry in twenty years’ time it might take ten microseconds and for all you sci-fi fans out there yes – we are now on the road now to creating a real world equivalent of the Star Trek Replicator.
By now I’m guessing that you’ve picked up on the word Raspberry and if you’re like many people you’re probably wondering what the jones I’m on about. Is it really possible to print a Raspberry – or, for those purists out there a nutritious food item that looks like, feels like, tastes like and has the same nutritional value as a Raspberry grown by mother nature herself? Using a process called Spherification it is and what’s more it’s already been done by a company in Cambridge in the UK but I’m not going to stop there. How would you like to print pasta, pizza, candies and bacon? Impossible? Sorry that’s also already been done and apparently, according to the astronauts on the International Space Station and others who’ve had the opportunity to try them all they’re all rather tasty and if you’d like to print your own food you can buy a 3DSystems ChefJet printer.
A 3D Printed ‘Raspberry’
Now let’s bring this back to agriculture – if you can 3D Print food using synthetic materials and nutrients that provide our bodies with the same vital nutrient building blocks that our bodies need to flourish, grow and thrive then why do you need farmers and supermarkets? Furthermore if you can print any food on demand could that spell the end of famine and will we see organisations begin to patent designer foods – a Raspberry that tastes like an Orange perhaps?
Technology has the potential to disrupt entire industries but with the right foresight organisations can turn threat into opportunity. We are at the very start of our 3D Printing journey but we’re already starting to see the potential it could unleash – from printing human organs that save lives and put an end to donor waiting lists all the way through to the eradication of famine this seemingly simple technology will transform our Planet piece by piece.
About the author: Recognised in 2013 by the public as one of Europe’s leading emerging technology and disruptive innovation experts Matthew Griffin works with Her Majesty’s Government and Private Sector organisations around the world to help them foresee the opportunities and threats that emerging technologies and trends will have on business, culture and society at large. Twitter me @mgriffin_uk