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Energy efficiency is a hot sales argument today for a multitude of products and services. Although financial savings may be microscopic in things like mobile phone chargers and washing machines, branding something green is a fashionable choice for any marketer.

By haphazardly invoking Einstein I can extend the concept of energy to nearly everything, as matter can be converted to energy and vice versa. But before diving into nuclear reactions, let’s talk about resource efficiency.

Many industrialists see the streamlined assembly line, mass producing identical items, as the culmination of efficiency, compared to earlier handcraft and customization. Economic schools naturally picked this up and the mantra of innovate-and-mass-replicate became synonymous to success.

However, with the advent of three dimensional printing and the availability of scalable computing power, the mass product may soon be a relic of mindless inefficiency.

Think of your mobile phone and materials used to build it. The elements like gold, gallium and copper are painstakingly mined and organized for you, just to be thrown away some 2-3 years later. Yes, there are green logos also for recycling too, but the circle back to the production line is very long and lossy.

Consider an alternative. You put the old phone into a home recycler, pick a new model from an online brochure and your generic 3D printer prints and assembles a new device for you. Your financial transaction only concerns the new phone recipe, downloaded by your printer after your choice – from tens of thousands of alternatives and customization options. If your new phone weighs more due to a larger display, you might have to get some more gallium by mail, or recycle it from some other outdated gadget.

I foresee that the “recipe industry” outpaces the physical one very quickly, perhaps in only a few years. And this will be the biggest industrial revolution yet.


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