Will 3D printing in the home actually catch on?

hotpop 3d printer
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter

3D printing is a popular meme these days, although it is only a subset of the much larger trend toward what we call downloadable designs or digital production. Will the 3D printer become a common home appliance? Russell Davies looks at the issue in the Observer: Forget guns, let's dream of 3D cakes.

I previously compared today's 3D printers to dot-matrix printers in the 80's: low resolution devices that did a lousy job. Davies suggests that they are in fact like today's home printers, which still do a lousy job:

3D printing, you see, is not a single, homogenous technology. It's many different things. It can be extraordinary and banal. Right now it's having its popular consciousness moment and all sorts of myths and cliches are popping up. The first two you'll probably encounter are these: the comparison with the way paper printers got cheap and popular and the idea that – any day now – you'll be able to print replacement parts for the things that go wrong in your house, normally your washing machine.

The first point has a lot to commend it. Printing did go, pretty quickly, from being an industrial process to being an office-based one to entering the home. Domestic and office printers are small, cheap and ingenious; it's just they never actually work. Printing ink on paper is a very mature, highly developed business, a huge and venerable industry. And what's your typical experience? Ink costs a fortune, the printer never connects to the computer, it never prints the right thing the first time and occasionally you print 1,000 copies of something when you only wanted one. If you want to imagine 3D printing in the home, think about that.

He does agree that 3D printing is going to have a big impact. "But, like every other technology, it'll probably sneak round the side and do something unexpected."

Read more in the Guardian

Tags: Downloadable Design

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