Archive | August 2014

My personal prediction about Rob Ford and the Toronto Mayoralty race

Rob FordIt now looks probable to me that Rob Ford will be re-elected Mayor of Toronto.

Obviously, this is my own personal opinion, and has no connection with Deloitte, or Tech/Media/Telecom at all. Except that the techniques I use when writing a TMT prediction turn out to be useful in this kind of prediction too. Every year I help produce a list of predictions: it isn’t a list of what I want to happen, but instead of list of what I think will happen. It isn’t composed of things that I do, or even that my friends do. It is based on data, even on data that conflicts with my own preferences and biases, or that refutes my initial hypothesis. It uses all information publicly available, and uses insights about data reporting and collection (such as biases in public opinion data,) historical examples forgotten by most people, and is combined with trying to look at topics in different ways.

Let’s start with this week’s poll results: from a low of 22% back in June, Rob Ford is now at 31% in a large sample survey, trailing leader John Tory by only 3%, or 5% if it were a three way race. Five percent is a pretty big lead for Tory: why am I saying that Mayor Ford is “probable” to get re-elected on October 27?

Rob polls low. For some fairly obvious reasons, many people are embarrassed to say they are willing to vote for Ford. It might be the drugs, the racism/homophobia, or the public ridicule. But once in the privacy of the voting booth, your vote becomes truly anonymous. This happened last election: most polls held in the week before voting day said the race was too close to call. In fact, Ford beat Smitherman by 11.5%. We don’t have enough data to establish by how much Rob polls low…but 5-10% is almost certainly about right. Which means that the 5 points by which Ford trails Tory in the latest poll is likely to be illusory.

The trend is his friend. Olivia Chow has shed 16% of support in a few months. Tory has picked up some of that, but from a higher base. The sense of Rob Ford momentum is much stronger: JT is up 20% since June 6, and RoFo is up 41%. Bandwagons matter in politics.

A weird kind of Teflon. Normally, someone who was predicting that a candidate was probable to be elected would need to add some caveat. “Bob Smith looks like our next Mayor…unless a video of him emerges smoking crack, consorting with gang members, and saying sexist, racist and homophobic things.” That ship has sailed for Rob Ford. I have a pretty good imagination, and not counting an actual arrest for something, I cannot even think of anything Rob could do or say that would significantly impair his chances in October. (Please note I am not saying this is a good thing, or that I understand why those who vote for Ford are so willing to excuse him. I am just pointing out that it will be pretty tough for him to harm his prospects.)

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Mayor McCheese. I am confident that many of those who will vote for Rob would not do so if he were running for Prime Minister. Municipal mayors are a kind of weird exception in politics. This isn’t just Toronto: please remember Washington DC re-elected Marion Barry after he was CONVICTED of buying crack. The job of mayor is very high profile, but has remarkably little real power. This is a huge asset for the Ford campaign: all sorts of people who wouldn’t trust the man to park their car or walk their dog will end up casting a vote for him for their own complicated reasons. [Edited to add: It occurred to me after writing this post that some might think I am making fun (or even referring to) Rob’s weight. Not at all – his physical attributes are irrelevant in my view. My point was that Mayor McCheese is the Mayor of McDonaldland in those 1970s TV ads. It ought to have been a position of power, but he was almost purely a figurehead. To quote Wikipedia: “He was portrayed as a giggly, bumbling, and somewhat incompetent mayor.]

It was the end of the world as we knew it. “We can’t elect Rob: the city would become a laughingstock and Lake Ontario would start boiling. Plus the plague of frogs.” Nope. It hasn’t happened. Toronto real estate is at all-time highs, the economy is doing well, and the garbage is still getting picked up. He has been mayor since 2010, and if the wheels didn’t fall off during that time frame, then “Ford more years” isn’t likely to be apocalyptic either, and the threat of it won’t deter many potential supporters.

Anybody but Rob. It seems unlikely Tory would drop out: he’s in the ostensible lead. And even if he did, there is no way of knowing where his supporters would go. Given Olivia’s plummeting support, she could pull out of the race, in order to save-the-city kind of thing. And it seems unlikely that many of the 26% of voters that say they would vote for her would switch to Ford. But 1) you never know. And 2) “Anybody but X” campaigns make for HORRIBLE dynamics. They are purely negative, and often provoke a swell of support for the perceived victim or underdog. And that fits right into Rob’s playbook: “The elites are ganging up to keep me out.”

We still have nearly two months to go. And please note my language: I said that I think it is “probable”, not “highly probable.” Meaning 50-60% likely, not over 90% likely.

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Duncan’s Guide to Hiking in France

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Mountaintop video

For years I have driven around France and literally hundreds of times I saw clusters of cars parked by the side of a road near a pole with small yellow signs on it. “What were they doing?”

Rando.

France is honeycombed with trails for hikers (randonneurs.) Some are famous trails in the Alps and the Pyrenees, but even near my favourite town of Nyons, there are 30-40 trails within a short drive of our hotel. Since our first time trying a single trail behind our hotel six years ago, we now return to spend at least a week and up to 15 days hiking in the area. Why?

It’s a wonderful workout, and we get to have dessert every night with dinner! The view of the French countryside from the trails is very different from a car, or even an after dinner walk down a local lane. Our sense of French vineyards, lavender fields, geography and “feel” for the land is so much sharper today. Finally, we have busy jobs meeting thousands of people per year, so a chance to walk for 3-6 hours and meet only a handful of fellow hikers (and a brief “Bonjour” is the extent of any conversations) is perfect quiet couple’s vacation for us.

People used to hiking in Canada may be daunted by some scary experiences in the Rockies (“Did you know that if you fall into a crevasse you will die of hypothermia before we can rescue you?” etc.) Those hikes can be intimidating, so let’s talk about how you can get started hiking in France.

Trails and Trailheads

The first thing you need is a Carte de Randonée from IGN. They are for sale in any local Maison de la Presse or tobacconist, and most hypermarchés. Or you can buy them online!

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If you are even mediocre at reading a map, these are dead easy to use. You find your peak (Cougoir, in this case) and locate the trailhead starting at the Vieux Village of Teyssières. Google Maps says that is about 24 km from Nyons, and gives you all the roads. That will take you at least 40 minutes if you aren’t insane. These roads are one lane wide, twisty, and if you can make 40 km/h you are a better driver than I am. Please be careful – lots of trucks, cars, and cyclists.

Park your car at the pole with the little yellow signs (there is always room) and head up the trail. Trails in France are BRILLIANTLY marked compared to Canada or the USA. They use a code of blazes (white, red and yellow paint) on trees and rocks to indicate the correct trail, wrong trails, even the direction of curve up ahead. Follow the horizontal yellow over red markings (for this trail) and avoid the yellow crossed with red (like an ‘X’) and you will be fine. The trails tend to be wide and well maintained.

Gear

Which leads to the great part! You need running shoes, not hiking boots. No snow, no streams, no swamps. Pair of shorts, t-shirt, hiking socks (blisters are the enemy) and a hat if your hairline resembles mine. Lots of sunscreen. We use two packs: a CamelBak filled with ice cubes and water back at the hotel, and a bigger backpack for fleeces, extra water and a tarp. We carry a liter of water per hour for the two of us, unless it is unusually hot. Always bring a fleece: clouds can cover the mountain summit at any time, and the temperature can go from 28C to 13C in 30 minutes or less. If you don’t need to wear the fleeces, they make excellent pillows for lunch-time naps. No bug repellent: is it too dry for mosquitoes. No bear spray: there are no bears! There are poisonous vipers in France, but I have never seen one.

Finally, if you are skittish about heights, most of these trails are hundreds of years old, and were used by kids and seniors to get to market. You will almost never have to scramble, to put your hands down for support, or walk along a sheer cliff edge (unless you want to.)

Lunch!

We make our wraps in the hotel in the morning, and they keep cool in the CamelBak. We time our hike so that we are at or near the summit between noon and 2 pm (depending on how much we pigged out the night before!) We find a spot with a nice view, and facing south-ish with a gentle 5-10 degree slope. We lay down our trusty ten year old blue tarpaulin (6’ x 8’; $10 at Canadian Tire) flat, stick our backpacks by our heads as pillows, and eat lunch, with a 30 minute snooze in the sun for after. We have NEVER had a better lunch in France than these picnics on mountaintops.

Exertion, time, and steepness

Most people know Barbara and I are fairly fit. And we have done some crazy long hikes at brutal paces. But we don’t do that every day, or we would get injured. Cougoir is a rest day kind of hike – we get our legs moving, but it is not a huge exertion. The trailhead is at 650 m altitude, and the summit is 1221 m. According to the signposts, it is 7.5 km each way. There are two longish flat bits (maybe 1.5 km) so you can see that the vertical of just under 600 m is accomplished over 6 km, or about a 10% grade. That isn’t flat, but as a comparison the Grouse Grind is 31%.

Most healthy adults walk about 4-6 km per hour on the flat. Adding 600 meters or nearly 2000 feet of vertical will slow down most people, but I would be surprised if anyone reading this took more than 2.5 hours on the way up, and 2 hours down. Without pushing ourselves, Barbara and I got up and down in 3h40m, and that was with 40 minutes up top for lunch and sunbathing.

Bonne route!

Let’s Test Everyone: broader clinical trials are harder than you think

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Yesterday on Facebook I linked to an article about the new class of anticoagulant medicines such as Pradaxa, and the current controversy around them. One issue is that these drugs are mainly being prescribed for older and/or sicker patients, but were probably tested on primarily young and healthy volunteers. However:

“In the case of Pradaxa trials, we know elderly people and people with renal disease were relatively under represented when compared with those who were prescribed Pradaxa when it was released onto the market. This is important because those excluded are the very people who are most likely to develop bleeding complications.”

My Facebook friend Maryana Simonovich raised the reasonable idea that “FDA should advocate less selective inclusion criteria for those trials, to get a more realistic clinical outcomes.”

That seems like a good idea, but in my experience (on the board of biotech companies as an investor) Maryana is wrong. But the reasons WHY she is wrong are non-obvious, interesting, and worth a much fuller exploration.

[edited to add: Maryana isn’t WRONG, of course. In an ideal world the broadest possible inclusion criteria would be ideal. The points below are just a look at why the potential costs of broader inclusion criteria may outweigh the benefits.]

Why not just test the drugs on the patients most likely to take the drugs?

  • Clinical trials are powered to show statistically significant differences between the various arms: one group gets the drug being tested, and the other either gets a placebo or the current standard of care (such as warfarin, in the case of anti-coagulants.) The probable difference in efficacy and adverse events between the two arms is almost always small, so you need a large number of patients to see meaningful differences in the few months that the testing will occur. For something like Pradaxa, a Phase III FDA trial will have 500-2,000 patients enrolled. If the only endpoint I am looking at is “does the drug reduce clotting safely?” then I stand a good chance of having a successful trial. But once I start asking questions like “Does the drug reduce clotting safely for men and women, black and white, young and old, those with kidney troubles, those with history of hemorrhagic stroke, etc?” I need to dramatically increase the size of my trial: 10,000 patients might not be enough. Enrolling 10,000 patients (more on this in a second) will take longer, and cost much more money. And before you talk about drug companies only being interested in profits, remember that they are controlled by shareholders who do worry about the ROI for clinical trials. Depending on the disease, more than half of all Phase III trials fail, so demanding that all new drugs be tested across the full range of possible patients means that many fewer drugs (especially for rarer conditions) will be tested going forward. That’s not good.
  • Drug trials have very clear rules. Not only are we looking for drugs to stop clotting, we want to make sure they are safe. Those running the trial will be looking for signs of excessive bleeding, bruising, rashes, headaches, plus the usual stuff all medicines need to worry about (sleepiness, wakefulness, nausea, diarrhea, and so on and so on.) But they will be ESPECIALLY vigilant for serious adverse events: stroke, other fatal bleeding and death. A single death (of uncertain cause) can mean that the entire trial is halted. The investigators need to study that death and figure out if the drug is killing people. It can take weeks or even months, and sometimes the entire trial needs to be restarted. In a trial of 1,000 young healthy volunteers, the odds of a subject dying unexpectedly are very low. But once we add older, sicker patients to our investigation, the laws of probability start working against us. Patient #749 dies after two weeks of the drug. They were in their 70s, and had been on dialysis for ten years now. The doctors are pretty sure the new drug has nothing to do with the death, but they can’t be sure. Once again, the cost of drug development will go much higher, and drugs will take longer to get to market. Not good.
  • It’s different for pancreatic cancer. Getting 73 year olds to enroll in new and potentially risky therapies when they are already seriously ill tends not to be a problem. You can recruit quickly, as long as your disease isn’t too rare. But getting older, sicker patients to sign up for a drug trial that is NOT lifesaving is much harder. Not only are the patients worried the drug might be unsafe, but the whole clinical trial process is a big use of time and can be a pain in the ass. Getting young healthy volunteers (who are often under employed and looking for a bit of money) is tough enough. So many trials are delayed months trying to find a thousand people willing to risk their lives for a few hundred bucks. Once you start trying to study the sick and elderly as well, I can guarantee that enrollment will take at least twice as long, perhaps more. Drugs already take many years to come to market. Forcing drug-makers to broaden the inclusion criteria would unquestionably delay many drugs. Don’t get me wrong: we would know they were safer drugs, but the number of people who die waiting for the better drugs could well be larger than the number of lives saved due to safer drugs.

This post isn’t as well hyperlinked as most, but I am on vacation, so figure any blog post is better than none at all!

[As always, I am making no comments or statements about the safety or dangers of Pradaxa, or any other drug. Or its manufacturer. This is just a blog post exploring some of the issues around inclusion criteria for clinical trials, from the perspective of someone who used to work in the field. This has nothing to do with what I do at Deloitte in the tech, media and telecom areas. All opinions are strictly my own and not Deloitte’s.]

How do I pick a dress for my wife?

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Last night I had two female friends over for dinner, while Barbara was out as a judge for a Business Woman of the Year Award. When she came home, my friends oohed and aahed over the dress she was wearing, and Barbara told them that I had found it for her. One of my friends asked me later: “How do you figure out what dress would look good?”

I am sure that not everyone would care, but I do have a methodology, and I thought I would take the time to share. Many people won’t read it, many more won’t finish…and at least a few women will print this out and staple it to their husband’s foreheads!

Getting Started

First, I have developed a sense of what colours in general work for Barbara. As a natural blonde with a few strands of silver in her hair, blue-green eyes, and usually a bit of suntan from hiking or running outdoors, there is a whole palette of colours that look good on her. And some that make her look like she just got out of prison! I almost always use colour as my first filter.

Next, there are certain cuts that don’t work: she has a long torso, and looks hideous in anything with an Empire waist. Because she is so slender, many dresses look great, but certain lower necklines can make her sternum look bony. I think a 52 year old woman with the best legs in the world has nothing to fear from a mini-skirt! But some dresses can have features that are too girlish, and inappropriate for someone Barbara’s age. Pussy bows. Pouf sleeves.

Since this post is intended to be read by men, I can picture someone not wanting to learn about pussy bows and all the other nomenclature. Fine: you don’t need to know a single one of those terms. The basics can be found here, and as long as you think of any dress as being composed of these 5-6 elements, you are good to go.

Often I just buy a dress because I think it will look nice. But sometimes Barbara needs one for a specific event, and that usually informs my thinking and helps me find the ‘perfect’ outfit.

Case Study #1: Reykjavik Speech

This is about the dress Barbara was wearing the other night. B had been asked to give a keynote speech in Reykjavik in March, to about 250 women at a financial literacy event. Barbara has always said that nothing boosts her speaking confidence like wearing a new dress: she feels sexy and powerful and energized. The picture at the top shows her being interviewed by the Icelandic State broadcaster in the new Harpa Concert Hall.

Not only does Barbara look good in that specific blue-green shade, but the colour makes me thinks of the sea. Not the Mediterranean blue, but a kind of North Atlantic on a sunny but cool day. Next, the white semicircles reminded me of whitecaps, and the seas around Iceland are always whitecapped due to the constant wind. It felt very nautical, and just a bit resonant with the natural surroundings.

Finally, the dress has hundreds of tiny cutouts, so that you can actually see Barbara’s skin (or lovely lingerie) peeking through. Not very much, and nothing inappropriate. It wouldn’t work for an audience of mainly older men: too much prurience. But for an audience of young, fashionable, Scandinavian women, I thought it was a bit daring, a bit edgy, and with just the right whiff of sexiness. Not only would Barbara be energized wearing it, but the women in the crowd would be impressed by her audacity, and more receptive to her sometimes-provocative message.

 To me, the dress REINFORCED who Barbara is, what she was saying, and where she was saying it.

Case Study #2: Tel Aviv Video Shoot

One of my other tips to prospective male dress-buyers is to have a few go to stores. When we are in Vancouver, there is a small boutique on Alberni St. called Blubird. I don’t think I have ever been there and NOT seen something that Barbara liked, and frequently on sale. This January I was in Vancouver on my own, and found two dresses that I was very confident she would like, so I bought them, even without her trying them on! (Warning to husbands: this is the advanced class. I wouldn’t have done this a few years ago.) I stuck them in my suitcase, and surprised her with them when we rendezvoused in Calgary the next day. She was thrilled, and I told her that one would be perfect for her upcoming video shoot in Tel Aviv on International Women’s Day. How did I arrive at that conclusion? Take a look at the picture below:

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As always, I started with colour. Tel Aviv is also known as The White City, due to the large number of Bauhaus buildings. We had managed a holiday in Hawaii before the Predictions road show started, so I knew Barbara would have enough of a tan to pull off bright white. This was for a video shoot. The first thing to remember about video is that the camera loves solids. Any kind of colour contrast can be distracting, so the monochromatic would be best. As a final subtle touch, there was a texture to the dress that reminded me of the plaster detailing used on some of the Tel Aviv buildings.

Unlike the Iceland dress, the Israel choice was not sleeveless, but had t-shirt sleeves. I would be the first to say that I love Barbara’s arms and shoulders: she works hard at the gym with weights and kettle bells and even gymnastic rings to get that muscle definition. But older women who are very fit tend to have lost some of their subdermal fat, and at certain angles their arms can look very “veiny.” That’s not much of a problem when you are on stage; the audience is too far away. Still photography also is fine; the photographer chooses shots that don’t look unflattering. But video is problematic, and it is all too easy to have a few segments that do NOT look good. So some sort of sleeve was a good idea.

Finally, Barbara gets nervous about video shoots. Like many other women, she tenses up, and stands like a little girl with her legs crossed, and rolls her shoulders forward. Which looks TERRIBLE on video. What works best is a strong, upright, and balanced stance, with your feet about shoulder-width apart. The dress I chose had a very fitted bodice (shoulders back!) and the flared skirt naturally encouraged Barbara to adopt a power stance. The results speak for themselves.

Case Study #3: Did I mention the importance of colour?

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The price was good, the neckline is good, and the jewels are a nice touch. But for a blonde with blue green eyes, the dress above will always make them look amazing. We picked out this dress YEARS ago, and Barbara still wears it multiple times per summer.

I think every husband should get to have as much fun as I have been having. It allows us to turn something that might be a chore into an activity we both can participate in. It saves us tons of money, because Barbara never ends up buying outfits that don’t look good: the most expensive dress you will ever own is the one you don’t wear! Instead, she knows I love her outfits, and that makes her happy, empowered, and adored. Which is a good thing for me too. 🙂

[Special thanks to my friends Jane Dragone and Marcia Wisniewski, for providing me with the inspiration for this post.]

#3DPrinting is a revolution. Just not the revolution you think it is.

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I am wearing a 3D printed object right now: my wedding ring is made out of precious metal and is attractive, elegant, well designed, durable, valuable, and something I hope to still have 50 years from now.

And that’s odd, because most of the 3D printed objects you read about are cheap, ugly, and plastic. Calling them trinkets would be too charitable: the word that seems to fit best is ‘tchotchkes.’ The media focus on 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing, or AM) has been on the idea of a “new technology that promises a factory in every home.” Like a Star Trek Replicator, these devices will soon be ubiquitous, and we will all be printing out our own light switches and cutlery. Not to mention hot Earl Grey tea.

That’s not going to happen. Why?

#1 Too damn finicky: A society where most people can’t be bothered to sharpen their own knives won’t have the patience to learn how to set up a 3D printer and operate it properly. A Facebook friend of mine bought her own machine recently, and has been documenting her adventure on a blog. Hats off to Michelle, but page after page of not preheating the platform properly, buying a new platform material, coating it with glue, the extruder jamming, the object lifting off the platform before it is done…all in order to make a plastic moustache cookie cutter? The machines will require less consumer calibration one day, but in my view not at a reasonable price point within the next 5-10 years. In the meantime, for every Michelle who is willing to tinker there will be 99 people who would quit in frustration: hardly a factory in EVERY home. (I can’t find the source, but I once heard that the majority of power drills were only used once. And they are much easier to use than today’s consumer 3D printers.)

#2 “Plasticky” is not a good thing: Almost all home 3D printers use one of two plastics (ABS or PLA) that come in spools of filament. Plastic melts easily, the layers adhere well, and it is fairly cheap, which is important when you take dozens of tries to get your moustache cookie cutter just right. But while you may think that the cookie cutter is just a fun thing to learn how to make, and the 3D printer will soon be making much more practical objects, that’s not true. There really aren’t that many things most people need in their lives that are best made out of ABS or PLA, and can’t be bought at your local store faster, cheaper and better.

There are 3D printers that work in metal. But a decent one that can make nicely finished objects of a reasonable size costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions. That price will come down a bit over time, but will still not be at the ‘factory in every home’ level within the next 10 years. Maybe 20! Just to give you some idea, only 348 3D printers that make metal objects were sold in 2013.

Next, even the metal ones only work in certain kinds of metals. As an example, if you go to this website, you might get excited that you can make 3D printed parts out of gold! Not so fast: here is what actually happens:

“Gold models are 3D printed using a complex five-step process. First, the model is printed in wax using a specialized high-resolution 3D printer. It is then put in a container where liquid plaster is poured in around it. When the plaster sets, the wax is melted out in a furnace, and the remaining plaster becomes the mold.”

That’s cool (and more on this later) but the objects themselves are not 3D printed out of gold – only the wax molds are.

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#3 “Anyone can be a designer” is a hideous lie: The current problems around materials and ease of use will get better over time. But most people have the design talent of a dead stoat. Can a society where millions of people still use Comic Sans be trusted to design their own cutlery? Even if I wanted to design my own spoons (and I never have) my experiences with trying to make things out of wood, clay, paint, Lego, plasticine, or even papier-mâché have shown me that I am not very good at this kind of thing. Even after I taught my fingers how to usefully fabricate an object, my BRAIN doesn’t have the talent to make an adequate object, let alone a beautiful one.

I am not the only one. A recent Globe and Mail article described this phenomenon perfectly:

“Then the piece was printed and my pride was pricked. Rather than epic, the key chain looked jagged and silly. On my laptop screen, I could blow my model up so it looked imposing and impressive and huge. In real life, my dream skyscraper was a sad, little grey lump… A quickly dashed sense of euphoria would be familiar to any industrial designer. Professionals frequently switch between loving and loathing the object they’re creating. The difference between an expert and an amateur, though, is that a pro will keep pushing for perfection. But I don’t have the time or humility or even inclination to keep going – do I even need another key chain?”

Hey. You promised us a revolution – stop being such a downer!

Now it gets good. The future of 3D printing is huge and transformative. But it isn’t about plastic key chains or toys. Some of it does involve small plastic objects: most companies that are using 3D printers today are using them for rapid prototyping. Design a new rear view mirror, print it out in a few hours, and see how it looks on the car or in the wind tunnel. Faster, better and cheaper than how they used to do it. Some are also using one of those 348 metal printers to make advanced aerospace parts. But most consumers (and even most companies) have no need for rapid prototyping or jet engines.

In my view, the biggest potential for 3D printing is in enabling those who DO have design talent to more effectively compete with larger players. And not by using 3D printers alone, but as only one part of the manufacturing process.

Barbara and I recently renewed our wedding vows, and we asked Tara and Courtney Neray of Slashpile Designs to make them for us. I didn’t know it at the time, but they used 3D printers:

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“These pieces were super interesting to work on because they really used such a perfect combination of new technology and traditional jewellery techniques. We first modeled the rings in CAD, without the texture. In this step, we create a file for each ring that is sized to the customer. Each file is 3-D printed in wax and then cast in the metal of choice (18 karat white gold in this case!)”

The first key aspect is that the Additive Manufacturing technology is only part of the process: 3D printing dovetails perfectly with many existing manufacturing techniques. That may disappoint the Star Trek purists, but it actually means that 3D printing will be huge. New technologies that work with existing processes almost always are adopted more rapidly than those that require entirely new ways of doing things.

But why is it a revolution? Historically, a couple of 20-something designers can’t do a lot of custom work fast, or maintain large inventories of many models. I can walk into a large jeweller, see a ring I like, and say “give it to me in a size 7.5” and walk out with a ring in my pocket, or perhaps a week later at most. The Slashpile entrepreneurs can’t keep a supply of finished precious metal rings in dozens of sizes, and they probably can’t even have a full stock of casting molds in the most common sizes made ahead of time.

But with 3D printers, they can make me a custom pair of rings in about a week. Additive manufacturing solves a particular pain point in the manufacturing chain, and dramatically levels the playing field between large manufacturers and the start-up in the garage. Just as PC technology narrowed the gap between the mainframe computer makers and the kids in the Silicon Valley garage.

The story above was about jewelry, but the exact same barriers and solutions exist in multiple industries, and 3D printing – as part of the existing manufacturing process – will be a critical tool.

Welcome to the revolution.

[My Deloitte colleague Eric Openshaw has an article on 3D printing on LinkedIn. It is a short-but-great read, and makes similar points. Here’s my favourite quote:

“In addition, AM makes the supply chain more flexible and agile. Product life cycles are shortening, which puts a premium on speed to market. Since the initial costs can be lower than those of traditional manufacturing, AM can offer competitive per-unit costs at levels below the scale required by traditional manufacturing.”]

 

[Edited to add. I realise that my comments about my friend Michelle Toy could be misinterpreted. Although I don’t think her 3D printer will become ‘the factory in her home’ either, she is out there learning about additive manufacturing in a very real and hands-on way. Leaning any skill is good for you, and good for your brain, and almost always useful.

Back in 1984 my father was teaching a course at BCIT on microprocessors and computers. Early days! He needed someone to build, test and program the machines his class was going to use, and he asked me to do it. I learned how to solder better, how to read resistors, played around with DIP switches and even programmed in hexadecimal. Those machines are less than toys today…but the knowledge I acquired has helped me at least once per month in the 30 years since then.]