It seems like everywhere I turn these days, I see tipping points. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, it’s "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point" – that instant when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Or as Rich Hughes, a data warehouse marketer at IBM, said in a recent blog: “A tipping point is the crucial junction after which evolution becomes revolution.”
I wrote about one example of a tipping point in my last blog. Although it hasn’t arrived just yet, I can see it coming down the road: that’s the moment when intelligent data platforms drive old-fashioned ERP apps to extinction. Stay tuned, Mr. Gladwell!
Meanwhile, let me call your attention to one tipping point that is happening here and now: 3-dimensional (3D) printing. Although the technology has been around since the late 1980s – back then it was called RP for “rapid prototyping” – in the last few years, 3D printing has truly crossed the threshold and spread all over the place, disrupting dozens of industries, and doing some amazing things along the way.
So what has caused 3D printing to “tip”? Imagination! I just held an offsite gathering with my Informatica IT team and one of our guest speakers was artist Joshua Harker. Joshua took his love of sculpting, his interest in automatism, and his experience in industrial design and mechanical engineering to break the design and manufacturing threshold of possibility. This landmark event in the history of sculpture and the chronology of the 3D printing happened because Joshua was “absolutely compelled” to use “digital data as medium, computer as chisel, and 3D printer as forge” to “humanize the inhuman.”
This may sound too esoteric to be categorized as a tipping point, but consider this: because Joshua pushed the boundaries of what early 3D printing inventors called “stereolithography” in 1986, today:
- The founder of Not Impossible, Mike Ebeling (a film and TV producer by trade), not only used 3D printing to create prosthetic limbs for victims of one of Africa’s bloodiest wars, but he also taught people living in South Sudan how to use the technology - creating the first of its kind 3D prosthetic printing lab.
- Researchers at Washington State University have been able to print temporary replacement bones for patients needing orthopedic or dental procedures. When the printed structures are placed surgically next to bone, they act as a bridge, helping the bone repair itself and then dissolving with "no apparent ill effects."
- McGill University researchers have created 3D-printed wearable instruments that turn movement into music.
- Animal testing could happily become obsolete with the technology Alan Faulkner-Jones demonstrated this year at London's 3D Printshow. A Heriot-Watt University researcher says his modified MakerBot printer spits out micro-tissues and micro-organs that, in maybe five years' time, could be used to test prescription drugs, sparing rats and rabbits while also providing more accurate results.
- Mechanics -- and Jay Leno -- have been using 3D printers to make replacement auto parts for years. This capability could prove especially useful for soldiers in the field who might be caught miles away from a repair station.
This list barely scratches the surface of what’s happening in this exciting field. Believe it or not, researchers are now exploring the use of 3D printing to produce chemical compounds at the molecular level, paving the way for printing medicine at home. It’s no surprise that 3D printing is becoming big business, with industry consulting firm Wohlers projecting the global 3D printing market will hit $6 billion by 2021. Yes, we have definitely crossed the threshold.
IBM’s Hughes says that advancements in big data analytics “are playing a critical role in this trend” by “intensifying 3D printing’s effects on our increasingly connected world.” In other words, data management and integration has become a key enabler of this industry-transforming trend. 3D-powered custom manufacturing, for example, requires firms to manage huge backlogs of CAD files. Likewise, maintaining quality control over critical 3D-printed parts -- and spotting trouble during manufacturing -- demands massive data management and analytics firepower.
Like just about everything else in the modern world, the “spreading wildfire” of 3D printing is powered by imagination and data. But, how can you be sure all that data is clean and secure? This is where Informatica can play a huge role.
Manufacturers such as GE Power, which runs a growing 3D printing operation, are just beginning to grapple with the unique data-security challenges found in this new environment. For example, what happens when a manufacturer ships 3D printing code to a customer or to an outside printer rather than shipping the product itself? "This is new to everybody," Teresa Zielinski, GE Power’s CISO, told author Pam Baker in an excellent article on 3D printing security in InformationWeek. "There will need to be processes to protect the data, and to assure buyers that what is delivered to their 3D printer is actually from the manufacturer.”
Baker says that CIOs and IT leaders should start to protect company data used in 3D printing in the same way they govern and protect devices and data in their BYOD policies and processes. If you ask me, securing 3D printing data at its source and protecting it where it’s output will be the biggest driver of adoption in the burgeoning 3D printing industry. These are the things I think about as we look to the future inside Informatica and where we have been helping our customers achieve new levels of security within their data architectures. How are you preparing for this tipping point?
3D printing is just one example of a new technology that has reached Gladwell’s tipping point. How many more can you imagine? I bet you’ll find in nearly every case that data and imagination will drive it over the threshold.
Thanks for reading.