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?
There has been a debate going on, in distributed manufacturing circles, on whether the 3D Printing model can be extended to general usage.
The Replicator blog gave five reasons why it won’t go mainstream, and they have been countered here.
My own view is that while I don’t see individual usage, envisaging a network of small shops at neighborhood level seems a realistic expectation.
I asked our Dutch friend and RepRap enthusiast Erik DeBruijn for his comments, here they are:
“I must say up front that I’m biassed because I’m totally fascinated by the RepRap project. Seeing the development and simplification of the design gives me the impression that anyone could build a RepRap soon. Of course I’m prone to make a misjudgement on this, because you tend to expect you and your peers are a representative fraction of society. Of course as (almost) graduate student, I’m not average. Still, there are enough people like me, with an inclination towards technology and DIY, that ARE, like me, interested by the idea of having a machine that can make almost anything.
Right now, you need a more or less technical interest or even a background to build a RepRap. As the device becomes more mature, it is like a writers pen and paper, like a painters brushes and canvas. 3D design will be a way of expressing yourself. And the things you make can be shared. Others who are not as creative could have a paint-by-number type of interface to make objects with limited design freedoms. The design process wil be adjusted to the level of a designer.
* Simplification of the design, it becomes easier to build, less maintenance-intensive
* Quality of the products that come out of it is better
* Reduced dependence on specialist materials and/or tools
* Diffusion of the product causes faster diffusion (positive feedback loop, a.k.a. network effects or Metcalfe’s law)
* Better software, more easy to use software
* More suppliers for kits and even ready made sub-assemblies (you can now order a RepRap that you can build in little over 24 hours (a friend of mine did it) and requires no soldering or electronics experience).
* More (free) designs online. Thingiverse.com currently has 300+ digital designs of products that you can make with digital fabrication tools. Of which, currently, 42 (!) are 3D printable items.
Currently, people who can design in 3D, but who don’t have a RepRap, get to see pictures of the prints (from someone who does). This alone could be a motivation for making 3D designs. Perhaps he could even receive a copy from a nearby RepRapper. Even without a 3D printer, people are encouraged to 3D print.
Even if the RepRap isn’t succesful, it might be because a derivative is even more succesful. Eventually, when a certain installed base (critical mass) has been reached, it might become popular again. A 3D printer that can be 3D printed AND upgraded is probably more interesting considering the speed at which they will be improving when they have reached a moderate degree of diffusion.”
* Cathy Lewis: what needs to be done to bring 3D Printing to the masses?
* I have found this to be particularly impressive: 3D Printing for architectural modelling, print your own lifesized house