Fascinating article. I totally agree with your assertion that Sonova has found one of the best commercially viable applications for 3D printing. With the level of customization and precision needed for a hearing aid, Sonova was smart to think of using 3D printing to improve their product and service. You also identified an interesting Catch 22. 3D printing certainly helps Sonova, and their customers, in the short term. It’s the perfect technology for this particular problem and it is great that Sonova has leveraged it and furthered its use in this application. However, by doing so, they have opened themselves up to eventually being disintermediated out of the entire system. 3D printing could “democratize” the manufacturing of many consumer goods, even hearing aids. Like you mentioned patients, or doctors, could possibly eventually print their own devices at home. Your recommendations to the company seem spot on – they should invest in design, material science, and software programs that they can use to keep a hold on their positioning in the market.
I’m curious to understand if the same resistances to change are present in this industry as in many organizations and industries around the world. Your article makes it seem as if Microsoft has a clear first-mover advantage in developing what is clearly a better product than what is offered in the status quo. The challenges then seem to be 1) maintaining that head-start and 2) making the use of the FPGAs the new normal for the machine learning developers. Are there key stakeholders that Microsoft needs to engage with? Are there obvious customers, or influential users that could usher in an accelerated adoption of the new technology?
As you mentioned in the article, it feels like every “digitally native” brand nowadays is trying to somehow also label itself a tech company by including a couple buzzwords about machine learning and data science in their investor materials. It seems reasonable that you could teach an algorithm how to respond to various skin conditions, but I have an issue with the efficacy. Does this actually work? Is there any tangible proof? Kiehl’s has been offering “skin tests” in their stores for years which did the exact same thing – tested your skin and magically found that you were in dire need of 3-4 Kiehl’s products immediately! This kind of system makes it easy to abuse customer trust. Additionally, I am concerned that this kind of technology actually hampers innovation in the future. Over-reliance on machine learning could lead you to only iterate on existing products, instead of trying to introduce new products based on fresh science and research.
As a vegetarian, Clover’s mission certainly resonates with me deeply. Reducing demand for meat is an important step in reducing our carbon footprint, conserving water, and correcting the ethical missteps of factory farming and animal cruelty. I am pretty skeptical about the use of open innovation in this model however. Food and taste preferences are so subjective – everyone could feel something different and there is no “right” answer. While it might be a useful way to get ideas for innovative foods, I’m skeptical about how it would scale. All food companies solicit feedback from customers, this isn’t really anything new (only the format in which they solicit feedback, the community tastings, feels new). The problem they all run into is that once you reach a certain scale, getting 50,000 recommendations for what flavor chips you should make becomes almost useless. People don’t agree on things and don’t always even know what they want! I’ll wait and see what happens with this restaurant chain!
PS: It is unfortunate that a man named “Ayr” rebelled against his namesake and did not end up in wind energy…
This is one of the more interesting, commercially viable uses for 3D printing that I’ve come across. It goes beyond proto-typing and actually solves a problem – efficiently manufacturing unique molds for individual patients. What concerns me about this advancement is that it will push the industry further into the aligners model. Currently, aligners are a sub-optimal way to straighten teeth. They are not as effective as arch-wires and do not have as lasting of an impact as installing a non-intrusive wire on the back of the teeth. Many might be okay with that – this is cosmetic dentistry and people, particularly millenials, may be satisfied with a slightly lower quality but more convenient solution. However, I worry that this will shift the consumer market to being more accepting towards lower dental standards. It’s as if we are leveraging technology to create a faster, but worse outcome. I’m not sure if that should be celebrated.