Blockchains as Substrates and Disruption at the Low-End

tl;dr: Beyond speculations, decentralized networks running on blockchains supported by cryptographic tokens will enable new economies, rewarding creators and disintermediating multiple vendors in existing supply chains. An exploration of 3d printing.

I have a friend named Gary who is an avid 3D printing hobbyist.

Last night, I went to his house to see his set up.

About 8 years ago, my daughters and I had created some rudimentary models using TinkerCAD and then printed them via Shapeways.

I was curious to see how far along the technology has come in the intervening years.

It’s respectable progress, though definitely not quite ready for prime time, mainstream adoption. Kind of reminded me of blockchain.

Today, for about $1000, you can buy a PRUSA printer that comes pre-built and is considered top of the line for the enthusiast market. The filament spools are about $50 for 1. Gary spends about $600 per year and he prints a fair amount of stuff. Here’s a video I shot of the print job starting.

In addition to Shapeways, the other site he relies upon to find designs is Thingiverse. There are millions of designs already available on both of these, though searching and curating is still a challenge.

Using a simple $10 Raspberry Pi as a print server, he can send the designs, which he creates via AutoCAD (there are others) to an Octoprint layer creating software to his printer.

When Everyone has a Manufacturing Facility at Home

What Gary has created in his basement and which doesn’t take too much space, time, or money is a prototype of a “just-in-time” manufacturing facility.

Let’s say he has a problem, e.g. the cover on his grill out back keeps blowing off due to the wind or a rack he bought at Costco to hold spices doesn’t allow the kitchen cabinet door to close.

He has two choices.

He can go to Shapeways or Thingiverse and see if someone else has already solved this problem, find a design he likes, download the files, and print a solution at home.

Alternatively, he can design a solution himself, print it, and then share it with others.

He’s done both.

Now, instead of going to Home Depot or ordering it on Amazon, he has solved the problem at a much lower cost.

Again, this isn’t a mainstream solution yet…but it will be one day.

Home Depot isn’t going to notice a few home hobbyists who aren’t buying hooks for the kitchen cabinet. Amazon isn’t going to notice fewer orders for Gust Guard.

But I wonder if this is these types of high margin, low-cost orders will eventually become vulnerable to disruption?

Compensating the Creators… Blockchains as the enabler

I first learned of the concept of “blockchain as a substrate” from a blog post by Trent McConaghy.

It sounds more complicated than it is. It’s blockchains as an enabling layer for value in the same that the Internet is an enabling layer for information.

Without the Internet, there is no way that Gary is printing these items in his house.

Without blockchains, there is no way that he will get paid for them.

Today, he isn’t getting paid for them. Neither are most of the other hobbyists out there. Sure, some people are selling some items, but the challenge is that when you send someone the files for 3D printing then, well, they have the source code. There is no way to protect IP…currently.

But with blockchains, you can.

The source code can be encrypted and creators can certify their work. A purchaser can obtain a license to print a file once, 3 times, 10 times, unlimited times, etc. but each time, a micro-payment will be sent to the creator.

Beyond payments, there is a veracity and authenticity angle. Gary wants to know that the file he is downloading hasn’t been corrupted. With cryptographic proofs, he can be sure that it has not been altered or tampered with at some point in the supply chain.

Finally, by decentralizing the storage of the designs, a creator can disintermediate Shapeways or Thingiverse, thereby keeping more of the profits from the sale for himself.

For more, see: Why 3D Printing Is Going to Need Blockchain and 3D Printing Could Be Blockchain’s True Game-Changer.

Like CRISPR and 5G, blockchains will enable micro-value transactions that are secure in new ways.

They are the substrate for a new value economy.


Blockchains as Substrates and Disruption at the Low-End was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.