Tom Easton, Professor of Science at the Thomas College in Maine has just released a PDF of an interesting article he's written for The Futurist magazine.
Easton suggests that the combination of low-cost 3D printing technology and new business approaches triggered by commonly available internet connectivity will result in a new world for consumers. Gone will be the days where you wander through big-box stores seeking the item closest to what you had imagined - and then being disappointed because it isn't exactly what you wanted. Instead, you'll use online tools and services to first design (or more likely modify an existing design) and then print it in your home using advanced 3D printing tech.
We agree with Prof. Easton, as he points out that businesses such as Ponoko begin the inevitable trajectory towards consumer manufacturing freedom. We thought the most interesting bit was his 2024 scenario, in which a dad creates a custom gift for his children - entirely with 3D desktop technologies. He predicts that there will be a big business for 3D media cartridges, similar to today's inkjet business.