Swarm Economics: How 3D Manufacturing Will Change the Shape of the Global Economy

By Olaf Groth, Mark Esposito and Terence Tse

The collaborative economy and commons are challenging the way companies are engaging with consumers and we experience a shift towards zero marginal cost society thanks to a new hybrid form of converging configuration, powered by the crowd. Supported by technological breakthroughs and disruptive creation, the intelligence of the “swarm” constitutes an opportunity to alleviate old structural imbalances, injustices and diseconomies, if managed with foresight. 

From the Few to the Many: Swarm Economics

In recent years‭, ‬we have been seeing a shift in how goods and services are consumed‭. ‬Driven by global trends in resource shortages‭, ‬sustainability‭, ‬financial strain‭, ‬wireless technology‭, ‬social media‭, ‬etc‭., ‬fewer businesses and consumers feel the need or are able to individually purchase‭, ‬own and maintain certain types of material assets‭. ‬From Netjets to BnB to Zipcar and Buzzcar‭, ‬consumers in the US and Europe have increasingly been taking to what is commonly referred to as the‭ ‬“Sharing Economy‭.‬”‭ ‬This is sweeping through many sectors‭. ‬To be sure‭, ‬there are many open questions of a regulatory nature‭. ‬But this demand-side trend toward crowds sharing seems unstoppable‭.‬

On the supply side too‭, ‬we are now on the verge of a paradigm shift‭. ‬This shift pertains to how goods are designed‭, ‬made and distributed across the globe‭. ‬Over the next 20‭ ‬years we will see a democratization of manufacturing that will allow consumers to build their own products in a decentralized and distributed fashion‭, ‬and to an extent never seen before‭. ‬To do this‭, ‬they don’t need to be experts in any one of these activities‭. ‬Rather‭, ‬they will rely on the help of developers‭, ‬some of them professional‭ ‬product developers‭, ‬many of them hobbyists and hackers‭, ‬to create designs for new products‭, ‬and of other consumers to contribute complementary product components‭. ‬Jointly‭, ‬these manufacturing communities will hold most of the critical assets for experimentation and production‭.  ‬

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