Neil Patel has a striking vision for the future. “Imagine a world where you can talk to a machine, it designs something for you on the spot, and you can print it immediately,” he muses. He’s taking early strides toward making that a reality. This spring, Patel unveiled the world’s first blockchain-enabled additive manufacturing platform in a 36,000-square-foot facility in Canada. The dozen industrial 3D printers it houses use more than 50 different raw materials—primarily various types of resin (plastics), but also precious metals, clay, cement and wood. The factory is capable of making everything from furniture and decor to prosthetics and movie props.
To truly understand Patel’s company, Kabuni, the first thing you need is a crash course in blockchain, the uber-secure technology that powered the cryptocurrency Bitcoin—and is about to infiltrate just about every industry imaginable. Printing a 3D model with Kabuni is a lot like downloading a file from iTunes—Apple knows, the record company knows, and the artist gets paid and recognized the second the customer makes the purchase. Similarly, Kabuni’s printers know when someone is printing an artist’s idea, and ensures that the artist is getting paid for it instantly with Kabuni tokens. (In February, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian Securities Exchange to issue the world’s first Security Token Offering. Patel hopes this crypto-currency will someday power an entire network of 3D printers.)
That same technology protects the ideas uploaded onto the platform from being stolen, too. If an uploaded design is too similar to an existing one, the offending file is flagged. The creator of the copycat then has two options: make changes until the two designs are different enough to pass muster or print the original file and pay the person who created it.
Patel’s invitation to would-be product designers is crystal clear: Early adopters, much like early YouTube vloggers, will have a competitive edge. “If you have an idea that you believe is going to be loved and bought by hundreds of thousands, register at Kabuni,” he says. “It’s a world where ideas turn into reality.”