At the recent Siemens Global Innovation Summit, the Vice President & Global Industry Leader of Electronics at IBM; Paul Brody, gave a keynote presentation that outlined three technological changes that are at work today that will transform manufacturing as we know it — one of which is 3D printing. The other two are intelligent robotics and open source electronics.

Mr Brody has subsequently published his full presentation, which can be viewed here.

The presentation, entitled “The Software Defined Supply Chain: How it will change product design and the competitive landscape in every industry,” highlights research being conducted by the corporate giant that is IBM. The over-arching point that he makes about 3D printing is that it “is more than just a tool, it is a software-enabled ecosystem.”

Notice “software enabled” — 3D printing cannot exist in solitary confinement — it needs digital input and that is one thing that IBM knows about. The thing that I find so interesting here though is that while the ecosystem that Brody references around 3D printing makes specific (and predictable) references to ‘material science’ and  ‘design applications’ (read, 3D CAD) it also places equal emphasis on open source designs with specific reference to Makerbot, Thingiverse and TinkerCAD. Although, important to note here I think, that TinkerCAD is not as open as it once was.

There are also references to new start-ups makexyz, DEFCAD and Kickstarter as examples of other forces at work in this ecosystem, namely access to 3D printers, 3D design repositories and crowd funding. All of these factors are impacting a sector that is growing exponentially. Brody also makes the valid point that this transition is only going to continue and it is important to “solicit innovation or face competition. 80% of consumers told IBM in a survey that they are willing to help enterprises develop their products. Accept their help. Or see them build your competition on Kickstarter.”

This presentation reportedly comes ahead of a major IBM study on 3D printing, the results of which are due to be released later this year.