Prices of 3D printers has been steadily declining, from more than $500,000 in the 1980s to less than $1,000 today for a personal-sized device, making them increasingly available to consumers and manufacturers. Although they are not widely used in food manufacturing yet, their general availability is fueling research into how they can be used to personalize foods (based on dietary needs or allergies) and speed delivery of food to consumers.
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The technology behind 3D printing could allow food manufacturers to bring complexity and variety to consumers at a low cost. Traditional manufacturing is built on mass production of the same item, but with a 3D printer, it takes as much time and money to produce a complex, customized product that appeals to one person as it does to make a simple, routine product that would be appealing to a large group.
From the wisdom of Henry Ford in the 20th century to cutting-edge 3D technology, food manufacturers have successfully leveraged key innovations from other industries. The Industrial Internet is the newest wave of innovation and connected devices aren’t just changing the way consumers live, work, and play—they’re dramatically reshaping entire industries.
In order to thrive, food manufacturers need to continue to deploy technology from other industries to remain competitive. Food manufacturers have learned it is imperative not only to benchmark themselves against other food and beverage companies, but also other manufacturers in other industries. I heard from one company that it has moved from considering itself a beer manufacturer to a technology company that happens to produce beer—this is the kind of new mentality that needs to be embraced. The food manufacturers best positioned for the future are the ones experimenting now with ways to use intelligent, connected devices to offer new services, reshape experiences, and enter new markets by creating digital ecosystems.
Moore is the industry marketing manager for GE Digital. Reach her at Katie.Moore@ge.com.