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A Star Trek replicator - coming to a desk near you!

The more I see of it, the more I am convinced 3D printing is THE game changer of the next decade.

This decade, we are still experimenting with what materials can be created for raw material slugs. We are also seeing advances in how to make the printers more portable, while simultaneously making them more precise.

The limits of using just inorganic material have even faded away, with companies like Organvo (ONVO) getting into the field of "printing" living tissue.

The implications are astonishing. The ability to generate many-from-one items means inventories carried on long journeys or to remote locales (and planets) can be drastically reduced. This reduces vehicle size, with corresponding reductions in fuel use. For space travel, escape velocity here or on a destination planet become easier to reach when lighter vehicles are in play.

The concept of just-in-time delivery becomes on-demand delivery, so long as you have a local hub which stores a sufficiently broad range of raw materials. The design templates, many of which are being freely distributed on the Internet already, are even more easily portable and distributable amongst users. One could purchase an item or part on Amazon, click "buy", download it to your printer, and print it within a matter of minutes or hours. Delivery time now becomes a matter of only how fast your 3D printer operates.

Printed tissues, while they have farther to go, open even more breath-taking vistas. One recent example of the technology saving lives is discussed here recently on Reddit. Serious injuries may be treated in far-flung parts of the world, so long as the medical facility can indefinitely store the raw biological materials which comprise the printing slugs. Interplanetary medicine and the ability to serve small outposts becomes more feasible. Instead of requiring a large population to secure an organ for transplant from one person to another, relatively small populations can colonize other worlds or remote Antarctic locations because doctors could "print" the organs or tissue patches needed.

Assuming we don't let too much regulation get in the way of it, this concept of on-demand distributed micro-manufacturing should be remembered along with the Electric Light and the Internet as a watershed moment in technology. Bravo to those engineers and entrepreneurs who have labored to make it a reality.