Once the stuff of science fiction, 3D printers are going mainstream. In 2014 we saw the launch of the world’s first 3D printer available for US$200. Today, 3D printers have been predominantly adopted by technology enthusiasts, but the machines could be a mass market phenomenon within a decade.
It’s easy enough to see 3D printing making its mark on the manufacturing-related areas of travel and transportation. Aircraft builders have led the way, with Boeing producing an entire aircraft cabin using 3D printing and its Dreamliner having about 30 3D printed parts. Airbus is also exploring the potential of 3D manufacturing for the A350 XWB generation of aircraft.
It is perhaps less immediately obvious what the rise of 3D printing will mean for other travel players, like hotels. Here, 3D printing will make its mark more gradually. A hotel could give guests access to a 3D printer, allowing them to download and replace the sunglasses they left at home. Perhaps a guest could lighten their luggage load by printing their clothing upon arrival and on their return journey. A destination could also make it possible for travellers to create and print a personalised souvenir of their visit.
These examples may sound trivial but they underline an important aspect of 3D printing: the ability to produce personalised physical objects, quickly and at low cost. This could see an airline ‘printing’ custom meals for passengers so that everyone on a flight gets exactly what they want to eat. As well as making catering more personal this could foretell services such as medical concierge in hotels being able to reproduce a guest’s forgotten prescription medication.
It’s difficult to predict exactly what 3D printing will mean for business, let alone travel sellers. The one thing that can be stated with confidence is that 3D printing will be a disruptive technology that makes a huge impact.
What do you think? How could 3D printing impact the travel industry? Let us know below or send us a Tweet!