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A crash course in 3D thinking for the enterprise

The 3D printing market may be nascent, but CIOs should start to prepare the enterprise for the emerging technology.

According to Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and director of research at Consumer Technology Association, a standards and trade organization for the consumer electronics industry in the United States, preparation means more than ensuring the infrastructure is up to snuff. He also encourages executives to begin helping employees transition from 2D to 3D thinking.

“This is going to be something that becomes significantly more prevalent in the future,” he said in an interview with SearchCIO.

DuBravac’s concept of 3D thinking differs from what Google search results turn up. Rather than catchy, easy-to-remember consultant shticks, DuBravac is talking about a shift in conversation from what’s technologically possible to what’s technologically meaningful (real uses cases, user benefits, etc.).

The conversational pivot reflects a maturing 3D technology, similar to the maturation of wearables. “I don’t think we’re there yet with 3D printing, but we’re getting there,” DuBravac said during a recent presentation he gave at EmTech, an emerging technology conference hosted by the MIT Technology Review.

New generation of 3D thinkers

Part of the enterprise transition into 3D thinking will happen naturally, DuBravac said. Middle and high school students are already being exposed to thinking in three dimensions through gaming. Minecraft, for example, is a popular game where players design habitats in 3D, and, virtual reality headsets, such as Oculus Rift, are becoming more commonplace. Plus, it’s not unheard of for schools to invest in the 3D printing technology so that students can experiment with it, though the numbers are still small.

“Today, there are about 100,000 schools in the US, K-12. About 1,000 of them — 1% — have a 3D printer,” DuBravac said at EmTech.

But there’s no reason CIOs have to wait five to 10 years before they begin helping the enterprise make the transition from 2D to 3D thinking. One of the ways DuBravac, a trained mathematician and economist, changed his thinking was to pull the trigger and invest in his own 3D printing technology. “At first, I didn’t know what to do with it,” he said. “Over time, and it probably took a year, I started to say to myself, ‘I need this. I can’t find it. I could just 3D print it.'” CIOs can do the same for the enterprise.

It’s true that not all businesses need to sink resources into 3D thinking right now. (DuBravac’s quick rule of thumb: “If the business is involved in design at all, that’s a business that will be influenced” by the technology.) But it’s also true that 3D printing has never been more accessible or affordable. If CIOs can make even a small investment in the technology (one expert claims they can do so for $10,000), they may be able to set the stage for a shift in the conversation, DuBravac said.