With numbers like 500% growth in the next 5 years it’s no wonder there’s some serious buzz right for 3D printing and manufacturing right now. For me however with all the buzz there seems to be confusion on the consumer level with 3D printing – what is it actually for?
B2B makes complete sense with rapid prototyping and the manufacturing of components it’s easy to see why there’s surging demand for it but time and time again I catch myself wondering what the benefits are if you stop making ornaments and key chains with your home 3D printer.
Also I’m not one for start up/business buzzwords but I do feel that ‘tipping point’ resonates the right message when it comes to the current consumer mindset on 3D printing.
Right now I feel that the exploration of 3D printing is on the same level as what I can only imagine the discovery of fire was like – we’re throwing random things at it to see what it can do and what this new discovery is capable of. At some point 3D printing, just like fire, needs to start working for us, diving into the deep and untapped pool of potential that comes with creating something out of virtually nothing.
I personally feel that there are 2 ways that 3D printing will take off within daily home use.
The Amazon of 3D Printing
As consumers we’re always looking for 2 simple things – convenience and price. Those two have been greatly answered by the rise of ecommerce shopping over the last few years and none have done it better than Amazon.
For 3D printing to kick start it’s dominance there has to be some real need for the products it can produce. Ornaments and fancy looking lamp shades don’t cut it. Everyday things like food, clothes and electronics are what we desire and what we spend our daily lives using and being around.
3D printing at home needs to answer to these demands, there needs to be an online market place for everyday products that can be purchased and created through the 3D printer. Whilst websites like Thingiverse provide plans for wonderfully artistic ‘things’ to create and have in your home, it doesn’t really go beyond the levels of toys or gimmicks and factor in that everything is free it just doesn’t make it a viable more even sustainable idea.
3D technology is advancing at what seems a daily rate and the advances that occur aren’t minimal either. Time of manufacture is being cut by 40+%, costs are dropping dramatically, new materials are becoming available and all this signals to me that we’re still not even close to being ready for legitimate, daily 3D printing use.
The solution to taking 3D printing to the next level is to go back in time and look at the production line, see how it revolutionised the world and then take it and condense it down so everyone can have a personal production line in their home.
Home Production Line
A mini/micro-production line of 3D printers at home is what I’ve always felt will be the key to the rise of the industry. The products we need and use everyday at home and throughout the day are intricate pieces of equipment no matter how mundane they may look. Take for example the TV remote, a mass produced product that on face value seems easy to make, but try getting a single home 3D printer to make the most basic of TV remotes. It won’t happen.
‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – if you look at 3D printing at home with this mindset you’ll realise that what we use on a daily basis, even what we consider to be very basic equipment, is in fact too intricate for a basic 3D printing set up to complete. It’s not impossible but by the time it takes to print and construct together each and every component of say the most basic TV remote, it would make far more sense to go out and purchase it.
This is where my ‘dream’ of a home based production line comes into play. The idea includes multiple 3D printers that have different jobs in the construction process. Literally a miniature production line. This allows for multiple materials, styles and processes of printing to take place throughout the process, if it works together and constructs the product in stages it shortens the time and more importantly with only a few clicks it becomes an automated process.
Whilst I’m a huge advocate and follower of the 3D movement, I do wonder if there ever will be a use for 3D printers within the home. Dealing with medical, engineering, automotive, aero etc makes 3D printing a perfectly viable and brilliant idea but as always the biggest profit and success comes from getting your product into every home. Right now I can’t see any benefit or need for a 3D printer in my home short of wanting to build a prototype car I’m certainly in no rush to get a Makerbot or likewise!