Almost all the reasons in the article are problems with the current price, size, and reliability of 3D printers.
Someday, there will be a machine that will whip out objects so easily that you'd use it to make a doorstop.
I may be wrong, but I think you are falling into the typical false technological assumption that a new technology will revolutionize everything just because it becomes available. I mean, look at computers. Even though they are becoming ubiquitous there are not computers in every object we use every day. A lot of our home equipment is still based on "stupid" electronics because it's good enough in most cases.
3D printers will become more common, more reliable and cheaper as the market develops, but when you can order something on Amazon for 3 dollars and have it delivered at your door in one day, there is a strong competition as to what is the best/most effortless way to get the thing in question. If your goal is to make unique objects that you cannot find anywhere, then, sure, 3d printers are the future, but most of us are living in environments where many things have been standardized, and products fitting these standards are readily available.
In reality, uniqueness is overrated. Given a really large pool of objects to choose from(which are manufactured in mid quantities) , there's not a lot of consumer need for unique objects.
The largest market consumers do need unique objects is the healthcare market. But the economics there are totally different. for example 3d printing of dental crowns existed for a long time , but it doesn't(yet) captured the market with lower cost solutions(although it certainly has the power to do so, technically).
If residential manufacturing was coming, it would have come a long time ago via CNC technology. Additive vs subtractive is really just a methodology. There are probably more people out there that need custom metal parts for their car, boat, motorcycle hobby than people that only need plastic parts for their hobby. Although I know several with CNC mills and lathes in their garage, it is simply not going main stream.
I think 3D printing has a lot of value (especially 3D printing powered aluminum to make low-volume plastic injection molds), but I don't think you will see one in every home.
(Mechanical Engineer here)
3D printing is not like that. There is already an entire set of industries built to produce widgets. 3D printing doesn't offer any benefit except for customized items. So how often do you need something customized? No matter how cheap 3D printers are, it's always going to be cheaper to get somebody else to print a one-off for you using their machine. You don't use it all day multiple times a day. You pay them for that one-off, and then you don't need a 3D printer again for a long time.
With computers, there are a lot of day-to-day tasks that become much easier. For example, before computer, everyone had to balance their checkbooks in order to know how much money they had. Now you can just log into your bank website or mint.com. People used to correspond by phone and physical letter to keep in touch with relatives (also on a daily or at least weekly basis), and now that's much easier.
It's hard to say though. With computers, our "need" to perform large-scale automation and computation grew to fill the new capacity. Manufacturing is not as clear cut, but it seems reasonable to theorize that if our abilities to manufacture things grows, our "need" to do so will as well.
And let's not forget that with computers, there was a period where people were saying much the same things that we're saying now.
One thing that I think might happen is that various consumer items may become even more disposable (or perhaps more recyclable). More than that, I suspect that manufacturing itself may become increasingly viewed as a temporary, disposable utility. Right now making most goods requires extensive capital investment in factories and assembly lines, which tend to be large permanent fixtures. But what if manufacturing could be transitory? What if you only needed to make a small run of something? What if you could bootstrap a production line from a small core of machine tools and then dispose of the materials afterward? What if you could efficiently and rapidly break down the production line into its component recyclable parts?
Coupled with completely automated configurable manufacturing I think these innovations will revolutionize our relationship with manufactured goods and with manufacturing. Manufacturing will not be something one consumes it will be something that most people do (either through proxies or through "disposable" production lines or both). The era of cloned consumer goods may give way to an era of boutique goods and to transitory goods. Do you need a radio? Print one off at the corner factory then have it automatically disassembled and 100% recycled when you are done with it. Do you want to give your kids a set of toy soldiers to play with? Set up a quick production line at home and produce a set, then dispose of the machinery. Then recycle the toys when your kids grow bored of them. Don't worry, it'll be just as easy to print more if they want to play with them again.
This is a world that will confound our imaginations because it will disrupt the assumptions that are so deep seated we don't even know we have them and it will create new opportunities and change the balance of feasibility in ways that we lack the creativity to think of, yet.
I'm not sure where I'd get the raw plastic, though. Do they sell that at the hardware store?
This isn't to say that it won't happen, but it needs a new spin. It needs the 'killer app' that makes people want it. 1 Kg of ABS plastic (1.75 mm in diameter) is ~$30. PLA is more expensive, but it is renewable (~$45 / kg). It's not free to make stuff once you have one (it will last for a while, but you'll still need raw material).
They are slow, at least for 1D printers (filament printers are parametric printers, we move our nozzle in a line that gets longer with time). SLA printers are faster, way faster. They print planes at a time. They also can have better resolution. The trouble with them is that the liquid material is significantly more expensive as they are UV cured (so they need special handling, and whatnot).
I've been trying to think of something cool for what could be done with the situation (as it would get me a lot of money), but it's a hard problem. We're spoiled by how luxurious electronics are, how precise they are, and how little we have to think about how well they work. Little electro-mechanical things would be cool, and I could probably hand out a lot of personalized presents, but do I really need one in my house? Yes. Do my parents need one in their house? No.
Yes, you can print all the cheap low-value add things we currently outsource to China and other low-wage countries, but you can also personalize them.
That's a potential recipe for major disruption.
I can get a personally engraved iPod in a startlingly short period of time.
Lean manufacturing has been pushing towards the idea of pushing different things off the end of a production line for years. They'll carry on doing that. As the technology improves they'll integrate 3D printing type technologies into the supply chain.
Personalisation is certainly interesting - game changing in some instances almost certainly.
That doesn't mean that it's going to happen via 3D printers in your home. I find it hard to think about any kind of personalised object that I'm going to need urgently enough to print now gosh darn it, rather than wait for next day delivery. Especially at the ongoing cost of another box taking up space in my house.
I might have one coz I'm a sad techie who loves fiddling with stuff... but that's not a mass market. That's in the order of magnitude of the home-CNC machine/lathe market.
I can imagine technologies that might hit a mass market. For example if printing and disposing of kitchen mugs / saucepans / cutlery / etc. becomes cheaper/easier/smaller than buying / storing / washing them up then I'd buy a 3D printer like a shot. That kills a major pain point for me. But nothing like that is even vaguely close.
I've yet to see any problem that will persuade 'normal' people to get a 3D printer in the home that's anything close to an implementable reality. I'd love to get educated if I'm wrong ;-)
There's Costco's bulk lots and then there's manufacturers's bulk lots :-)
The economies of scale in producing the raw material will likely mean that its price will drop a bit, but the guy buying 5 tons a month will always get a much better price than the guy buying 5 lbs a month. Even if there are 50 million guys doing the same thing.
The price each individual pays approaches that of the manufacturer, enough to make this a viable alternative. This is nothing new.
Rapid Prototyping, Kanban, lean, agile, and other concepts that are revolutionizing software development were all concepts that developed in the Manufacturing world many years ago.
3D Printing is a very valuable tool for rapidly validating and testing designs....release early and often, get feedback, validate, etc.
Most products for the time being(once through the DFM process) will still get produced using traditional methods (Injection Mouldings, Castings, etc).
It's not a matter of price coming down, or size, or speed. There's a lack of use cases. There's just no large scale need for everyone to be printing out their own custom widgets.
An interesting example in this discussion: Why do a lot of fast-food restaurants use disposable tableware and coffee shops disposable cups? Disposable cups don't make sense if it is impossible to make disposable cups that cost nigh to nothing. If you want to take coffee on the road, just stop at a restaurant, or take a thermos can from home. There is just no need for anyone to have disposable cups, that's just wasteful.
Once these cups became a possibility, however, the use-case of a coffee to go became reality. And with some interesting changes bubbling through society to boot, I think. Compare train stations of a century ago with train stations of today, for example. Or canteens in many a factory with those of 50 years ago. Or your office: where has the coffee lady gone?
The author may be a mechanical engineer, but he certainly isn't an entrepreneur. The interesting question is not "Does it make sense for everyone to have a 3D printer now?" but "What kinds of things become possible once everyone has a 3D printer in their home?"
However, I think he underestimates 3D printing's potential when he says its only for people with design skill. Some people may want the ability to print 3D models they find online, just like people print some PDFs nowadays. In fact, this could be much more useful.
Now there are somethings I don't think he discussed that change manufacturing because it requires imagining a different way of working. These are the more transformative changes that might have no previous equivalent to compare them to.
For example, the ability to have a de-centralized, agile work force. My wife worked for a company where the M.E. were in the states, but software teams were in Europe. They were constantly sending manufactured parts with people as they physically traveled between offices. It was far cheaper to do this than ship the boards and cases of manufactured products to the team. However, with a 3D printer they could email the CAD drawing to the other office and in a day they could print it out. This is a big change in how fast things could be turned around, and save $1000's of dollars, allowing them to iterate faster.
Another change is 3D printing molds for doing injection molding. Some rapid prototyping shops already do this today. Creating the molds is time consuming, but 3D printing gives you faster turn around. And also more complex molds. This plays to 3D printings strengths low cost for low volume one offs. The quality of the part could be a problem, but hopefully that will improve with time.
I agree with what the author said, but I see the real limit right now is our own imagination for how 3D printers enable us to do new things we can't do now. This is where I see 3D printers are like computers as making something that was impossible before possible. These are much harder to predict. In a way it wasn't just computers that transformed us as much as the internet. Maybe there a companion technology that changes much of these assumptions made.
If we find a problem that 3D printers do better than anything else some of his assumptions could really change. For example, his assessment of 3D printers in homes right now is 100% accurate, but there might be some application we didn't see today for which 3D printers push into the home without significant changes to technology.
My plan as a hardware entrepreneur would be to 3D print prototypes and MVPs, maybe even the first production run. Then transition to prototype molds or CNC machining with a lot of setup/teardown. Finally you go with full blown steel molds, dedicated machines, fixtures, etc.
If you design for for only 3D printing, you can't scale past 3D printing.
I am hesitant on the argument of getting excited about 3D printing for as-of-yet unthought of uses. Its a fine argument for science exploring but if we are imagining the future or if I were an investor in 3D printers, a more concrete vision of how A becomes B is needed.
More striking arguments are unfortunately point in time statements, about the current capabilities of technology and the market maturity.
I am not saying that the CNC manufacturing will progress by leaps and bounds towards bringing $100K prototyping machines down to $2K in the next few years, but with increased focus on improving the lower end of the spectrum, and pushing its limits, we will actually find new uses for them as well.
I also don't believe that the ordinary person will go about designing their own parts. However, there will be a good market for people to hire designers, or for small time designers to collaborate to improve open source products.
e.g. One of the biggest ways that I see 3D printing and CNC in general as being important in producing parts replacements. How many times have you needed a broken or missing part for the affordable furniture that we buy from IKEA, Walmart, or Target?
As we use 3D printed pieces, we'll have to use materials which will perhaps be weaker, or in some cases unnecessarily strong but expensive. But, it will be fine, because it will do such amazing things we will not care.
-- This was interesting aside
I still like the example of clothing. Clothing may be good enough now, but people like it customized to them. Put a 3D photopolymer printer, 3D scanner, and some brandname designer in a shop in SF and watch a new trend appear.
I'm now looking at my options for 2D printing, such as cutting parts out of plywood, acrylic, and such. However, the lower cost CNC machines have a very small work area.
I'd really like to get one of those position-correcting routers as in the recent MIT video, or something else which would allow me to easily work with a 4x8 foot plywood sheet.
There are many people on CncZone building DIY routers that will work with a 4x8 sheet, or at least will route an entire door.
Imagine small local factories, filled with 3D printers and robots, run by skilled workers. Such factories would be capable of manufacturing thousands of different products for the people nearby on an ad-hoc basis. This could eliminate shipping costs, reduce waste, would make recycling easier, create jobs, increase GDP, etc.
Customization is the early killer app, but a world opens up as the material quality and speed improve.