Imagine a world where critical parts for everything from appliances to electronic devices is detected and monitored via sensors attached through the Internet of Things (IoT) network, and inventory is built and sent with a 3D printer — all before you have any idea it’s needed. A world where you never forget a gift for your wedding anniversary. A world where toys are printed out for your kids while they sleep soundly. A world where your lawn sprinkler system can predict when it will fail and not flood your front yard.

The IoT is based on the idea that everyday objects, not just computers and computer networks, can be readable, addressable, and controllable via an electronic communications network.

Qualcomm Incorporated is already thinking about the concept of using the IoT to take care of things you don’t know you need, and they’ve filed a patent application aimed at cornering the market for the concept.

IoT free hugs robot

Better than a free hug? What if the IoT made it possible for devices to get ‘hugged’ when broken and have parts 3D printed to make them whole again?

Citing increasing energy costs and the idea that government agencies are already making strategic investments in smart grids to control and predict future energy and materials consumption, the proponents of the IoT are looking far and wide for systems which could be improved by the notion.

Think electric vehicle public charging stations, remote connected health care and fitness services, data, voice, video, and security providers. As home and building networks expand, developers are looking for more finely-grained methods to reduce operational costs, and they’re looking at the IoT as the system to tie them all together.
US20140244017A1-20140828-D00010But perhaps the most interesting — and disruptive — component of such an idea is the thought that these interconnected systems might actually determine which items to build based on real-time needs, and 3D printers might one day be employed to build those items and get them to your home or office in a seamless, behind-the-curtain supply chain.

Could an IoT network be configured to actually predict the need for replacement parts associated with certain inventory items? Would it be possible for manufacturers to predict the need for malfunctioning or broken inventory items and respond accordingly?

The idea would require a monstrous effort which might include user license and 3D printable item blueprints, a priority scheme which includes timing criteria and resource availability data. It would also need scheduling software to handle a massive and ongoing list of 3D print jobs aimed at producing the items with little human intervention.qualcomm

Here’s an example: a user associated with the IoT network may have rights to build one or more items using a 3D printer based on a previous purchase, the 3D printer blueprints needed are held in a repository in the IoT network and registered with the external repository to control access, a license that grants the rights to build the item is retrieved and the part which malfunctioned or broke is then printed. Part builds are prioritized by say, replacing a part which is predicted to malfunction or break with one that’s already damaged but behind the “predicted” part in the print queue.

This kind of system could also manage an inventory on the IoT by selecting alternative items to satisfy needs in response to factors like which 3D printing materials are more inexpensive or readily available at a given point in time.

When you consider that one day IoT devices will include refrigerators, toasters, ovens, microwaves, freezers, dishwashers, dishes, hand tools, furnaces, air conditioners, thermostats, televisions, light fixtures, vacuum cleaners, sprinkler systems, and electric and gas meters, the conceptualization makes what we now think of as IoT devices like cell phones, desktop and laptop computers, and other such “legacy” devices seem like the dinosaurs of a future well on its way to becoming reality.

Kids’ gifts automatically timed and created from wish lists, “self-healing” power tools, dinner party paraphernalia on demand? It’s all coming to an IoT device near you, and it’s pretty likely you’ll need a 3D printer in your basement or garage to take full advantage of the brave new world of 3D printing and the IoT.

Qualcomm Incorporated has just filed a patent application which describes a system for using 3D printing as part of the supply chain through the Internet of Things. How do you think 3D printing will impact the IoT and the supply chain? Let us know in the Qualcomm Patent forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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