The 3D Printing Debate


Ten days ago digital production blog Replicator outlined five reasons ‘Why 3D Printers Won’t Go Mainstream‘. The expense and complexity of plastics as well as the difficulty in designing 3D objects are some of the reasons detailed. A few days later, the Solid Smack blog posted ‘Why 3D Printers Will Go Mainstream’ including smaller hardware and the convenience in their reasoning as well as some tongue-in-cheek hypotheses: “It will be marketed as gift item on talk radio during the holidays.”

So what do you think? Will 3D printers be as ubiquitous in home and offices as inkjet printers? And what about other forms of rapid manufacturing? Will people want CNC machines and laser cutters?

And at the root of this is the question, will ‘creating’ become more mainstream? I doubt there are any designers that would turn down any affordable manufacturing machine. But to what extent will the general public want to be the designers?

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3D printers are to manufacturing what the internet is to the news industry… a fundamental shift will occur where personal designs will be at the forefront of everybodies grasp. Stores will be closed, economies of scale will become irrelevant and much of the old guard will be lost and replaced by the masses.

I wrote a small piece predicting the future (with local and communal 3d printers of course) a little while back here:

Jon – Create Unique Memories

awesome. everyone is getting in. but you know I’m right 😉

seriously though, we limit the idea of 3D printing to engineering all to often. I’m glad ponoko didn’t do that with laser cutting tech. Look at all the awesome objects people are creating!

also Fluid Forms is getting in, Josh! 😉

We all will have access to digifacturing soon… Will everybody have their own desktop 3d printer at home… i think… no (or at least not soon) why?

I quick comparison with desktop printers (yes i speak about this old fashioned machines putting some letters and fancy images on paper):

In Austria, where I live, “everybody” has a desktop printer at home (people are too lazy to go to a print shop *lol*)
I also used to live in Chile and Spain for a while. People there can effort cheap printers but STILL use print shops around the corner to print out their stuff…
(they don’t really need a printer at home…)

first we will see online-services that give everyone access to digifacturing (i think you guys @ponoko think of spawning a web of manufacturing partners around the globe, aren’t you?;) ) then the time will come for the digifacturing shops just around the corner. and after that, step by step, people will see the point to buy themselves a desktop 3d printer. but I doubt that it will happen the next 5 years.

BUT: fab@home and co: please proof me wrong!!!

I think the biggest hurdle is going to be software rather than hardware. As Replicator said, designing in 3D is hard. Not that I would know, but it looks hard. And while I like learning most anything, I simply do not want to take the time to master a 3D software, let alone multiple ones.

And we’ve posted here about various simplified softwares that allow users to tweak something in 3D, but I want to start from scratch.

I wish 2D and 3D design were just taught in grade school, like typing.

designers will get a whole new responsibility when they become meta-designers, defining in advance the design-spaces for the consumer. that’s challenging but will open uncountable possibilities for tech-savvy designers!

@Kristen, 3D is actually very easy but it has an incredibly steep learning curve at the beginning… best to start now as the tools and options available are only getting more complicated, not simpler, as time progresses.

Learning the piano is hard, learning how to write is hard… actually, learning just about anything new is hard but only at the beginning but don’t let that stop you.

Jon – Create Unique Memories

I still remember the first time I saw someone model a plastic bottle in 3D software. The guy looked at an existing bottle, did a quick sketch and in about 3 minutes it was done.

Sure it wasn’t ready for manufacture but he made it look easy and kinda fun.

When I first tried modeling in 3D I though of it as learning an new way of communicating. It was hard at first, but soon became exponentially easier.

Now as I become more fluent with the ‘language’ it has become another tool in my thinking and problem solving.

well worth learning.

Define “mainstream” first, then we can have a useful discussion. Until then:

Replicator: “1. Publishing on Demand didn’t”

POD is still in its infancy and competing with one of the longest-lived and entrenched businesses. A little early for conclusions. Next.

Replicator: “2. Plastics Are Complex”

So are many of the chemicals/materials in people’s lives, but they somehow manage. I don’t know the chemical formula for the plastics with which I design products, why should non-professionals? Let’s not overstate the issue.

Replicator: “3. 3D Printers and plastics are expensive”

So were computers, cell phones, laser printers and internet access once upon a time.

Replicator: “4. Plastics are large and intricate”

Correction: plastics are *sometimes* large and intricate.

Replicator: “5. Designing is hard, designing in 3D is REALLY hard”

Correction: designing at a professional level is hard, designing at a professional level using overly complicated 3D CAD is hard. Designing is easy and designing simple 3D objects using tools like Spore’s Creature Creator is not difficult.

Solidsmack: “1. More access to 3D Printers”

Agree. I don’t have a laser printer, but that doesn’t mean there’s no mainstream market for the device.

Solidsmack: “2 Cheaper Materials”

Agree. This is about more than just plastic.

Solidsmack: “3 Smaller machines”

Agree. Lots of Americans have big screen projection teevees bigger than some 3D printers. Next.

Solidsmack: “4 More applications”

More than we probably expect. My bet is that non-professionals will surprise us professionals. They usually do.

Solidsmack: “5 Convenience”

Goes beyond convenience (as I’ve discussed in my “Next Gen” series).

Regardless, what I believe we’ll see is a hybrid manufacturing system which will outlive us all after it becomes commonplace. The ubiquity of those professional tools will, I suspect, result in pro-sumer additive manufacturing offerings (just like high-end video). That’s mainstream enough, imo.

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