If you are unfamiliar with Anderson, he was until recently the long-time editor of Wired magazine. He is an entrepreneur and has authored two other best selling books, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, and Free: The Future of a Radical Price. I recommend both of Anderson's prior books, and, although I do not agree with everything in them, Anderson always provides an interesting and thoughtful point of view on new technologies and their potential effects on society. Makers is a logical extension of Anderson's prior writings from, as he would probably put it, the world of bits to the world of atoms.
Early consumer and kit level 3D printers are available now and the price is dropping and the capability is increasing. Anderson likens the current capabilities of 3D printers to early dot matrix paper printers for computers in the 1980s. If one considers the advancement of paper printers from 1985-2005, the possible parallels are obvious. Compare the capabilities of a dot matrix printer from the 1980s costing thousands of dollars to either a laser or ink jet printer from today costing a few hundred dollars and you begin to get the picture.
On future Christmas eves, it may be possible for procrastinators to download designs from Amazon (or a yet to be established competitor) and "print" Christmas gifts using a 3D printer in the home office: No trip to the mall required. Come to think of it, I wish that technology were available today, especially given the lousy Christmas eve weather in Georgia!
Many of Anderson's examples in Makers focus on the consumer market. What are the implications of 3D printing for industrial machinery and equipment? They probably will largely depend on the industry: Making huge hydraulic presses is a much different proposition than making small precision aircraft components. It would seem intuitive that smaller parts and precision parts have much more immediate prospects for 3D printing.
Even for large machinery and equipment companies, spare parts could be a fairly immediate application. Those of us who negotiate machinery and equipment contracts know that the availability of spare parts is often an issue. Customers often want a contractual provision ensuring the availability of spare parts, and may even ask for a license of proprietary shop or manufacturing drawings if spare parts are unavailable. Equipment suppliers are naturally reluctant to provide access to such drawings, as they represent core intellectual property.
It is possible to foresee a time in the near future when 3D printers will ensure the availability of spare parts. There would be no need for a supplier to keep an inventory of spare parts, as they could be "printed" on demand. It might even be possible to download an encrypted CAD drawing to a customer that would allow the customer to "print" a spare part on its site, thus greatly reducing downtime.
There are undoubtedly numerous other applications for this technology that have yet to be discovered. The only certainty at this point is that equipment and machinery suppliers need to stay abreast of this technology.
As for legal concerns, one issue that will need to be sorted out for sure is that of intellectual property ("IP"). Anderson is a big proponent of open sourcing, which makes design information available essentially to anyone to develop. He writes in favor of on-line communities jointly developing and improving designs, and argues that the community of interest will cause devotees to buy the "atoms" (the product) from those in the community, rather than from pirates. He also argues, that, in any event, the social utility (lower cost and improved design) is worth giving up proprietary rights.
It is difficult to see the open sourcing model working for industrial machinery and equipment. Unlike designing a toy helicopter or flying drone (one of Anderson's projects), designing, manufacturing, and servicing industrial machinery requires an enormous capital investment. In order to recoup that investment, it seems to me that protecting proprietary rights will remain important and will also be a challenge, given that new technology will make it easier to turn a drawing into an actual product or part simply by pushing the "print" (or "make") button.
The legal system will also have to deal with the liability and insurance issues that are sure to follow from this technology. For example, if a part that was "printed" by a customer from a manufacturer's design fails and causes an injury, how will the liability be determined?
Insurers are now taking aggressive positions against manufacturers regarding the professional liability exclusion that can be found in many commercial general liability policies, arguing that design of a product is excluded, even if the policy also includes product liability coverage. If a manufacturer is really just designing products to be "printed" by customers or third-party service providers, this exclusion would come more directly into play. New insurance offerings will need to be developed for this new technology.
The concept of 3D printing becoming a mainstream technology carries with it, as with all new technologies, many opportunities and many challenges. To learn more, Anderson's book is a great start. The link to purchase the book on Amazon can be found here. A Harvard Business Review blog post, which can be accessed here, also provides some insights and additional links.