“10-22-38 Astoria” — that was the message written on the first photocopied page, which was produced in 1938. In the 50 years that followed, Xerox was born, a trillion-dollar industry developed around document duplication, every business got a copier (if not two) and home printers became able to reproduce pages.
But today, with 3-D printing, we can print a lot more than just words and images. With the emergent technology, any desktop computer can output objects as simple as a ball and as intricate as a human bone. Printing in a variety of materials, from bendable nylon filaments to strong thermoplastics, these devices have gone from invention to adoption twice as fast as the photocopy machine. And this 3-D printing revolution signals big changes for small businesses, allowing them to keep development costs low, innovation churning and a new way to keep their secret prototypes in-house and safe from copycats.
Meanwhile, the 3-D printing industry is also developing fast, with industry giants like Stratasys aquiring upstarts like Makerbot for $408 million. But innovative outfits are forming all the time.