Physical Technology – Computers and Printers

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OPINION: WE have come a long way since the days of Atari, microdot typewriters and dot matrix printers. Even the 286 with a dial up modem and 3.5-inch floppy disk drives seem like a museum piece now. That was just 25 years ago.

Now we have computers capable of processing enormous amounts of data in very short timeframes and printers capable of printing three dimensional objects. This computing and printing capability, as it continues to grow and get cheaper, has the potential to revolutionise much of what we now know and do.

Computers are now processing big data, writing algorithms, driving cars, flying drones, and becoming artificially intelligent. Computers are being programmed to do things that humans currently do at a level not all humans are capable of – in the field of agriculture, computers can analyse soil conditions and provide the exact amount of water and fertilizer – this then leads to a reduction in the amount of both water and fertilizer, to better crop yields such that up to 70% increase in agricultural output can be achieved for a significant reduction in costs. The price of food should continue to fall.

Computers are now more than capable of doing routine, mundane and repetitive tasks – this is a blessing and a curse. People who once conducted those tasks are now free to do more interesting things – this is good – but they must be capable (trained) to do more interesting things – this is bad as they could be redundant.

Printers are now more than the whirring machine in the corner of the office. The advent and capabilities of three dimensional printing is set to revolutionise the manufacture and distribution of goods. Three dimensional printers can work in plastic, metal, glass and ceramic. This means a great many objects in the world are merely printouts of digital plans. If I were to break a glass, or a vase, a plate or lose a knife or fork I will be able to three dimensionally print a replacement in my own home.

It is not just small objects that are capable of being printed – houses have been built by three dimensional printers – in London in 2014 and in China in one day, a fairly simple, modest house was printed for a cost of just US$5,000.

This poses some significant challenges for retail, manufacturing and distribution in the future.

RETAIL: Costs of goods falling, goods printed at home. Need to diversify offer – boutique, artisan, services, lifestyle. Capture and analyse user data.

OFFICE: Changes in tasks done in office space reduces demand. New users of office space emerging. Location agnostic.

INDUSTRIAL: Mechanisation of tasks, printing at home, less deliveries.

By Tony Crabb, national director, research, Cushman & Wakefield.*

Australian Property Journal