In an interesting move the venerable Smithsonian Institution has partnered with 3D Systems to provide "3D printing services and technology". 3D Systems President and CEO Abe Reichental said:
The Smithsonian has shown both foresight and technological leadership in embracing the potential of 3D printing to preserve and showcase today’s and tomorrow’s collections, making them readily available to a global audience while demonstrating the power of 3D content-to-print in a compelling and meaningful way.
While seemingly just another corporate announcement, this, we believe, foreshadows an interesting future for 3D printing.
First, this represents a significant change in how 3D printing is done by companies. Up to now many companies simply purchased equipment themselves or made one-time contracts with outside firms to complete a project. This is a blanket-style agreement to provide presumably hardware, software, services, consulting and more over a fixed period of time. This is very similar to how Xerox might provide 2D print services to Fortune 500 companies. Is this how 3D print services will invade the business world? Where will this lead to?
Secondly, the fact that the Smithsonian has procured presumably a huge amount of 3D services suggests they have big plans. While we've seen experimental sessions where folks invade a museum and 3D scan objects, this sounds much more like an institutionalized approach. Perhaps they intend on producing 3D models of all of their items? Would they sell 3D prints of famous works? Do they intend on creating a massive repository of 3D art and historical items? This could get very interesting.