Are body-parts warehouses the next big thing?

Brendan Richards, Partner, National Sector Leader, Transport & Logistics

I have long been paying attention to a technology that has tended to be glossed over by the average tech evangelist. Artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning are the buzzwords currently going around and the tech that everyone talks about as an absolute gamechanger. Cool as that tech might be, the real gamechanger (from a logistics perspective) is 3D printing.

3D printing may not be as sexy as the others but a technology with the potential to turn everyone into a manufacturer cannot be ignored. The industrial revolution spelt doom for cottage industry. 3D printing, at the very least, heralds the return of cottage industry. But the implications of the tech are a lot more far reaching than merely changing the face of manufacturing. What we are talking about here is changing the very essence of humanity itself.

A little while ago I wrote about how our faces are increasingly being used as barcodes. Cameras are now scanners that automatically catalogue the people who walk past them. We are becoming inventory, and the world a warehouse of human beings that are tracked and managed like all other physical goods. That is a function of the kind of AI and machine learning tech that everyone is talking about. 3D printing has now taken that to a whole new level. Now, it seems our bodies are well on the way to becoming warehouses.

For the first time, scientists in Israel have developed a working, vascularised engineered human heart by using human cells printed in 3D. That is an entire ‘living’ heart with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers. People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart before – basically a model – but not with the blood vessels and the cells. Granted, it’s only a little heart (about the size of a rabbit’s) but it’s only a matter of time before we are printing human hearts big enough for transplant.

What has been 3D-printed, that is suitable for transplant, is human skin. Researchers in Spain have developed a 3-D bio printer capable of producing human skin good enough to replace our own. Around the world there are more and more groups exploring ways to use 3D printing to grow the complex tissues and organs of the human body. One group has successfully created a human ear. Another group is working on 3-D printing bone tissue.

The implications are enormous. This is the technology that not only may allow you to print off a new pair of Nike runners at home, but may also actually significantly extend your lifespan and the number of Nikes you are going to have to buy!

There is a distinct possibility that within 3 or 4 generations we may each be storing spare body parts in our own private warehouses, ready to be used when our original body parts become damaged or diseased.

As I have long believed, having a logistics mindset is the key to unlocking our real potential as organisations and as human beings. In 3D printing, are we seeing the next stage in human evolution? Is this the next industrial revolution with a slice of medicinal revolution on the side?

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