It's going to be a race to find the apps that create the experiences, the business model to capture orders, and the factory of the future to fulfil them. Who will win?
Will it be a retail, fulfilment and cloud services giant like Amazon? Or perhaps there is time for existing 3D print services to scale up (before they are acquired). Perhaps the printer manufacturers will extend their industrial parts services, to the consumer tsunami. Is it possible that a custom sourcing marketplace such as Alibaba could make a move?
It's been noted that GE, with its broad range of products, is exploring additive manufacturing. Estimates of millions of dollars of saving have been made if GE used 3D printing for just one part in one product. Amazon has a similar scale of interests, but does not manufacture today. Is 3D printing cost effective enough to entice Amazon to an experiment?
Will Amazon and GE see 3D printing as a business to be in, or simply a new manufacturing method. Will 3D printing disappear into supply chains as traditional parts are selectively replaced by 3D printed alternatives?
It may not be only 3D printing that matters. After all, there are many other ways to automate manufacturing. Expect to see traditional machines along side the new 3D printers in the factory of the future. There might be more than an .STL file behind the 'Make' buttons of the future.