Back in 1997, Clayton Christensen wrote a brilliant book called ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail’. The book describes the reasons why established and well administered companies fail when they are faced with new, potentially disrupting technology.
The disruption of big companies by new technology can be a slow and hard to detect process. When the big established firm realizes what has been happening, it’s just too late. The latest example is the effect that Apple and Goggle have had on Nokia and Blackberry. The latter two companies owned the smartphone market in 2007; now the market value of both companies combined is less than 3% of Apple alone. In that time both companies continued business as usual ignoring the importance of usability and design to their devices, dismissing the iPhone as “just a toy”.
3D Printing is a new technology that firms should worry about. It is going to disrupt absolutely everything.
For example, logistics will probably be affected before any other industry, even manufacturing. If you want to ship a flower pot to a customer on the other side of the world today, you build the flower pot, pack it and then you go to the nearest post office and send it to the final destination. Very good business for global shipping companies like UPS.
In only a few years the process will be much simpler. You design the flower pot, save a file and send it by email to a 3D Printing mini-factory near to your customer’s location. The mini-factory will print the flower pot and send it to the customer using a local shipping company. Also, if your customer has the technology, you will be able to send the file directly to them and they will print the product themselves.
So how are good established logistics companies protecting themselves?
With the future in mind, UPS is installing 3D Printers in some stores now to get ahead of the competition. These little factories are currently inefficient and lacking in customers, but UPS will gain valuable experience of using the technology and running the operations required to manage these factories. When the time comes, UPS will be able to avoid deadly disruption since their core business will evolve together with the needs of their customers.
If you are wondering when would be a good moment to start evaluating how 3D Printing is going to disrupt your business, the answer is simple: NOW.