We live in the era of digitalization- where everything that can be digitized is being digitized. 3D printing is one of the drivers of digital transformation. But really what is the difference between digitization, digitalization and digital transformation in the context of 3D printing world?
Digitization is the move from physical world to the virtual world by converting physical item or its attributes to zeroes or ones of the virtual world. Some of the activities are deliberate. But some are activities that we have been doing without realizing that it is actually digitization at work. For example, when we are taking a photo with a digital camera instead of analog camera, it is a digitization process. When we are making a phone call with an App rather than with a landline phones, our analog voice is being digitized into zeroes and ones before transmission.
We start to embrace digitization as a way of life just in the recent memory. I still remember that not too long time ago I used to listen music via analog cassette. Then I got excited when CD that stores music file in digital format arrived. Nowadays the idea of music is that it something that we can simply stream to our device anytime we want it. All this could happen when we digitize the analog attributes of the physical world.
The real driver that enable this digitized world is digitalization. Digitalization is the process to move from paper-based, human-driven decision-making process to automated, algorithm-driven process. It is also the process of translating physical objects into digital design via CAD software. I used to spend hours in a music store in the past, listening to sample cassette and buying the cassette. If you born in 1970s or 1980s, you will remember HMV, Tower Records,. This analog process requires company to record the music, copy to cassette, ship and stock the physical cassette in the store for you to browse and buy with physical money.
Fast forward to today. Recording companies record the music in digital format at the onset, then they store the digital file on the server. And so anyone can access the music anytime and anywhere. It sounds really simple but it requires extensive digitalization process and capabilities to achieve this. First, the required infrastructure and systems to record and keep the music digitally must be present. Second, a system to process the digital music and to deliver it to the right users anytime need to be build. Then, we need to integrate a secure payment or authentication system to the music system so the right users can enjoy the music. It is all the more remarkable to think that all this system did not exist just over a decade ago. Yet digital music is so entrenched in our life now.
Digital Transformation and 3D Printing
The same pattern is increasingly happening to everyday and mundane objects- like toys, household items and even jewelries. Not too long ago, those physical items often begin life in an analogue mold in a faraway factory. Nowadays, those items often begin life on a computer screen as digital file.
Coupled with increasingly sophisticated 3D printing ecosystem, more of those items would be printed near or at customer’s physical address. Digital solution- including digital version of physical objects- is now the way of life. There are also now a lot more CAD artists who produce digital file out of passion and post their creations for others to use for free on platform such as www.thingiverse.com or www.grabcad.com. As a results, 3D files are getting mainstream and customers now expect digital service and digital version of physical product. They also expect to be able to tinker with and personalize physical objects as their own.
It is the ultimate destination in digital transformation where we can easily tinker and personalize any physical objects. 3D printing is closing the loop in this digital transformation cycle. Some say is the bedrock Industrial Revolution version 4.0.
It’s not too late to jump into Industrial Revolution by getting into the world of 3D printing.