Personal 3D Printing: Tech Flash
3D Printing: The Technology
For this addition of Tech Flash, we will be looking at personal 3D printing. The 3D printer is showing up more and more in households around the world. We want to see if this is the wave of the future or a flash in the pan. Print on.
3D Printing: A Brief History
3D printing has been around since the 1980s. Most of the earlier work centered around plastics and additive manufacturing. The general concept behind something like additive can be explained using Legos. Effectively, you visual what object you’d like to build. Then you start connecting the layers. After the first sheet goes down, a second later goes on top. This continues until you have your 3D model!
Of course as time went on, the process of 3D printing became more complicated. Metal powders were introduced, 3D modeling software advanced, and the machines became more robust. This opened the market for the common consumer.
Generally, if people aren’t familiar with code, they would never purchase a 3D printer. Luckily, developers have made coding accessible to all with 3D visualization software. Drag and drop has become commonplace to build a model. The brains in the software works behind the scenes to generate the code necessary for your machine to produce that model. Welcome to the 21st century of 3D printing.
Personal 3D Printing: Why it stays
The possibilities of personal 3D printing lend to the potential of incredible staying power. I’ll save the industrial/manufacturing industries for another day, but suffice to say it’s already a mainstay in those arenas. There is explosive growth in 3D printing technology as a whole, and some of those learnings have made their way into commercial use. The focus here is whether this technology has staying power as a commercial entity.
These items instantly make the average person more self sufficient. Need to build a key holder? Small basket? Hook? Think of all the small items you are buying on Amazon today. With current 3D printing technology, you simply buy a bulk material base, load a template and print away. The cost savings from printing such trivial parts has the potential to be massive over time.
Fast turnaround on simple parts also lends itself well to creativity. Think of all the entrepreneurs at home with some idea for a widget. However, they get stuck because they don’t want to invest a ton of money until they’ve experimented with the idea. Hello, 3D printer. They now can design and print prototypes in a fraction of the time and cost of tradtional methods. This spurs creativity and gives rise to a slew of new business opportunities.
Personal 3D Printing: Why it fades
While the idea of personal 3D printing is exciting, most people on a budget will find the at home machines only provide limited utility. In fact, even buying material can become expensive if you really want to create quality items. Even if material cost is no hindrance, you will be limited by the size of the machine.
Printing that key holder is fairly straightforward, but what if you want a new lawn mower blade? How about a fitness tracker? These things are certainly possible in the future with the technology; however, most commercial machines aren’t churning these products out due to size or complexity. Again, even for the most skilled programmer or designer, these might be hard to produce. So for our target audience, who is assumed to have little or no design experience, these types of parts may be unattainable. This begins to place the commercial technology into a type of novelty category.
If these items are simply novelties, then the demand shrinks further when you consider potential maintenance of a 3D printer. You thought troubleshooting your Wi-Fi or ink printer was complex, welcome to the world of complex machinery. Both software and hardware issues can come into play. Those folks that are experienced in working with their hands may not find it to challenging. But those with little expertise could have some major headaches troubleshooting one of these items. This has the potential to significantly limit the market for the commercial 3D printer.
Personal 3D Printing Takeaways
The potential of personal 3D printing is unquestioned. In the near future, you may buy specs for your favorite Ray Bans or Air Jordans instead of the product themselves. The potential ability to physically make some of your favorite products will change the consumer landscape forever.
I don’t personally own a 3D printer yet, but I’ve done some research on entry level Davinci machines and will take the plunge eventually. However, I’m waiting for it to mature a bit further. That being said, every household will have one of these in the future on some level. There will be to much utility to ignore.
As it stands today, drawbacks such as maintenance or limited complex parts may continue to be a barrier to widespread adoption. The cost could also prohibit potential customers as well. These are real short term issues that will continue to challenge the personal 3D printing market.
Make no mistake though, this technology is here to stay. Unlike, say virtually reality, where the full utility of the technology is being discovered, the potential usefulness of personal 3D printing is understood. It’s only a matter of time before the technology for matures. Overall, personal 3D printing is a big thumbs up in regards to its staying power. There is little doubt that it will unequivocally change our future consumer habits.
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