To outsiders, 1970s computing looked like a bunch of kooky hobbyists, and it wasn't far off. I think in 10 or 20 years, 3d printing is going to be the solution to lots of problems we haven't considered yet.
Yes, the "PC" was new. And that's the whole point - we now have cheap (but rubbish) desktop 3D printers. It's the equivalent of the transition from mainframe to minicomputer to PC.
However, the dimension of cost for 3DP (which is what the personal 3D printer movement is excited about) is only one dimension of many, and I'd argue not the biggest limitation.
3DP materials and process quality have certainly improved over time, but all of the current technologies are dead-ends in regards to competing with traditional processes - i.e. FDM/SLA/ProJet/PolyJet don't physically seem able, ever, to produce parts as nice as injection molding can for a myriad of reasons - even without cost as a concern. The situation for SLM/ProMetal processes is little better.
Perhaps the recent investment in 3DP will increase R&D spend on quality, but it doesn't seem to be the case if you look at the major or "maker" players.
That being said, there are a lot of comparisons to 70s era computers and it seems to be a valid observation. However, past performance is not indicative of future results.
In 10-20-30 years after the 70s hobby home computing club, applications are obvious.
So, maybe this is hard to ask, but what applications do you think are going to be obvious in 30 years time? What is the Visicalc of 3D printing going to be? What if there is no killer app?
Someday, 3D printing will probably be fast enough and improved enough to displace a variety of low-volume manufacturing applications. "Improved enough" to my mind would be manufacturing in metal with much more precise tolerance.
Have you ever held a McMaster-Carr catalog?
And you make my point :)
But back to the main point. The "long tail" type of business I envision is one that manufactures one-offs, or quantities so limited that the volume demand is below the level needed to interest a distributor such as McMaster.
Sure, you'll be able to produce anything that's mostly cosmetic, but how about something like the bearing housing for an old washing machine? I have to believe that will still get milled because it has to have certain mechanical properties a 3D printing process can't guarantee.
Everyone expects that the "killer app" will be replacing injection molding or something. It will be something much more unexpected.
3D printing (which should realistically be called what is has been for years-additive prototyping) doesn't replace any part of the major manufacturing industry, it compliments it and makes it available to do a few things at home.
12 years later, and the latest printers are good for 1 purpose.
Sure, a hobbyist may find this tech somewhat useful. For example to print a case for his raspberry PI. Even that takes 4 hours to print, and if he drops it, it will shatter. Oh and finish is TERRIBLE. If a mass produced version is available it will always be better in every way.
I've never held any 3D printed part in my hand that compares to a nice soft touch painted part, or even an injected molded piece.
This tech is like where the semiconductor industry was in the 50s. 60 years from now, we'll be printing some cool shit. But in a few years time, we're not going to be printing out shoes, headphones, and furniture like people here are dreaming about here.
And that is 3D printing hype in a nutshell: yes, the technology and its conceivable developments are not good enough to replace any significant part of mass production. But if some miraculous new development happened, if only this technology could develop at a pace as fast as some incredible outlier such as integrated circuits, then it would be a revolution!
In fact there is nothing that revolutionary about 3D printing, and it is very closely related to manufacturing technologies that were simply developed earlier because they held more economic potential. At its core, a 3D printer is a working head that is computer-controlled to move in three dimensions with an attached tool that deposits small amounts of material. A CNC milling machine is also a 3D-moving working head with an attached tool that removes small amounts of material. This is far more useful because you can work with any kind of material you want.
"Ah," the 3D printing evangelists will say, "but that is so wasteful! We need an accretive process to economize material." Except we already have another widely-successful industrial process that also works by adding material: industrial robotics. An industrial robot arm is a computer-controlled 3D moving working head (notice a pattern here?) that can add new parts to an existing workpiece. The parts are standardized and mass-produced separately, at a ridiculously low price, out of ridiculously strong materials.
So between CNC milling and industrial robotics, which are basically the same technology with different working heads, there is just not that much of a niche for 3D printing to make a dent into. Yes, that could change tomorrow if aliens came down from heaven and brought us a miraculously advanced 3D printer. But at that point the discussion reaches ground previously reserved for messianic religions, a discussion that I'd rather stay out of right now.
Still, 3D printing is in its infancy, already the food industry is getting more and more of them, they're being used in different parts of the process (for instance: mould making, which is a very delicate art) and they're getting more precise, faster and cheaper. Let's give it a few years before we declare it a failure, the camera obscura wasn't a very good DSLR either.
I do actually agree that 3D printing has pretty convincing use cases: food industry, small aluminum parts for airplane engines, customized cartilage replacement etc. I just think these are relatively small and non-revolutionary niches.
The article is written for investors who are looking for the 'next big thing' and gives some interesting metrics for when 3D printing is worth investing in, vs now when it is a niche. Similar to other stories we've talked about here, the 3D revolution is coming in 2020 not today.
It is about a project that started 1 year ago in Spain making 3d printers and now have more than 100 of them(the graph gets outdated fast).
There is today more new people coming to this technology every single year than the entire population dedicated to them before.
3D printer is not about what could be done with it today, but about what these people is going to do in the future from that.
E.g Inexpensive(1/10 the price of filament) plastic printing from pellets:
PS:I have a 3d printer and love it.
But I also produce low-volume injection-molded plastic parts.
and building the molds and then producing the parts is still faster.
The first mold, for the iPhone 4/4S) were made in China. The second was for the iPod Touch (4th gen). We've modified the second here in Austin for the iPhone 5.
We use Solidworks to design the part, and then outsource the actual mold design. If it was a two plate mold (just cavity & core), then we would probably do it ourselves, but all three (actually, 2.5, I guess) molds have 3 sliders as well. These require a semi-complex mechanism, and need to be hand fit (with bluing, very old-school/traditional) in order to hold the pressure of the injection molding process.
The pieces for the third mold were all done with EDM, rather than traditional CNC machining.
We do the injection-molding just outside Austin, though I'm considering moving it to Houston.
Duplicating LEGO is about as difficult as it gets in the injection molding world.
Though my degree was in ME, I'm really more of a software guy.
(We're about the same age, btw.)
I took the liberty of sending out a tweet about this, hope it will get you some sales.
I've worked with a professional moldmaker where we had molds made for the casting of the base/table for a CNC rig (very hard to make a stable rig, lots of interesting postprocessing for hardening).
Molds are fascinating, especially molds for high pressure/high speed injection, the precision and the amount of trickery to deal with warp and cooling are a lifetime of study.
I never quite realized just how much work goes into making molds until I saw it up close, those are very complex devices, far more complex than I ever imagined. Part of the reasons for using EDM rather than regular machining is probably the finish, the precision and the hardness scale of the materials used.
You might enjoy this:
Along with that, I am very interested in Prusa's print head. It will be able to print PEEK, nylon, polycarbonate, and other hotter (and noxious outgassing) plastics.
A practical example might be: Let's say I need some chairs. I can go down to Ikea and pick up one of 5 mass produced chairs they have and be done with it in half a day. Or I could browse through designs and reviews online, pick something I like and have it arrive a week and a half later when it's done printing (or have my neighbourhood or home printer take that long...)
Many of the objections the industry insiders use to describe additive printing are more or less the same arguments people have made about homebrew computing, back before the Steve Wozniac showed off the Apple I and IBM got into the game. Why would you use personal computer? They are slower than the minicomputers and mainframes. They are "craft" machines for hobbyists.
Ideally, we are moving to a future economy where you "buy" a product by purchasing a license to a design, and then having your household printer produce the product. If it is for something larger or requires more exotic materials, you might place a print order at the neighborhood Kinko's, Ace's Hardware, or print co-opt.
Speaking for myself, I don't want to live in a future where you've done what it's going to take to enforce those licenses.
There may still be folks who want to license designs out.
Nobody trusts a corporation to enforce their DRM mechanism because they get to be the final arbiter of what is "fair". What is fair is always good for the corporation, never mind the user. They may die and kill off access to those goods. The other extreme is hypocritical, simply because we run our digital goods through hardware -- all resting on the notion of allocation of resources. Besides, content creators want to eat, too.
A reasonable compromise is to have the DRM enforced by someone other than the seller. An escrow service is an improvement, but is not much better. And no one wants to depend on the government to host DRM servers. A peer-to-peer DRM might work. Bitcoin is an example of a technology that can be modified for this: http://codinginmysleep.com/exotic-transaction-types-with-bit...
The mediation is done peer-to-peer. You can, for example, sign a bitcoin contract saying you are lending an ebook to a friend, and have it published elsewhere. Granted, this would all be on an honor system -- if you can play back media, then you have access to the content, no amount of clever algorithms or coding can change that -- but so is much of the enforcement for civilized interaction. A small group will "cheat", the same way there are breakage in a retail store. If the voluntary participation of such a scheme benefits everyone involved and is not too inconvenient (centralized DRM servers that crash or gets taken down when the company dies, or requires a constant internet connection), I think most people will go for it.
It's best we experiment this kind of transaction with digital products, before 3D technologies get good enough that people start buying design licenses for goods.
Better yet, we make sure we have Open Source versions of products that people can download and print out.
But there is no more specialized thing than a 3d printer. You can print glasses for your face, not for a general model of faces but for your unique face, your specific sizes in all dimensions.
Getting to performance on the big machines is cost prohibitive for lots of things because you need big runs.
We need fewer, smaller physical things, and less stuff, to enjoy life. My new TV is has a larger screen and weighs less than its predecessor, and even so is largely redundant given i have an ipad. I used to need a laptop and a desktop computer, a games console, and so forth. Most or these now gather dust. I dont need a dedicated "movie" room, so i need less space and less furniture. And so on.
When we do want things, we often want them highly customized. Consider the insane variety of phone cases selling in popup stores all over the place.
I suggest to the author that anyone poo-pooing 3d printing today is in the exact same boat as, say, hot metal typesetters looking down on photo-typesetting and laser printers for their comparatively low quality back in, say, 1985. First they lost their low end customers, then all their customers, and then the people who had replaced them lost most of their customers (ok that's in progress).
This isn't an axiom. It's a personal preference. Don't imagine it applies to everyone else.
And it isn't as good of a camera as a modern dedicated camera is. In fact, it might not even be as good as the camera you replaced it with, especially when it comes to ergonomics. Similarly, a dedicated gaming device often has better ergonomics for gaming than trying to play the same games on a phone.
I understand convergence. I understand satisficing. I also understand why people still make SLRs, and it isn't just to keep dust out of the various lenses. If you really want a good camera, you aren't going to be fully satisfied with a phone that has a megapixel count. The gaming world is more fluid because games themselves can adapt to new hardware and interface styles, but specific games often really do go better when you have buttons as opposed to a touch screen.
And, finally, my little quirk: I refuse to believe that decluttering is a valid end in itself. Having a closet full of stuff I enjoy owning isn't a personal failing or a personality flaw.
The entire process is:
1. Transform raw materials into a finished product
2. Transport product from factory to store or warehouse
3. Transport product from store or warehouse to customer's home
Looking at it like this, it seems to me that the speed of 3D printing relative to other ways to transform raw materials into a finished product is irrelevant.
What really matters is the speed of 3D printing relative to other ways to transport the product from the store or warehouse to the customer's home. In other words, how long does UPS/FedEx take to deliver or how long does it take to visit the local mall?
"Ink" will be sold as a commodity at supermarkets/gas stations (perhaps eventually piped directly as a utility, like gas or water - though our consumption would need to increase dramatically to justify that).
Profits will be made on product design, and the industry will look just like the downloadable information-based industries of today: software/games/music/movies/education/news. Some business models will be a service related to the product, not the product itself. Although long-tail diversification will be possible, it mostly will be be dominated by a few products and corporations (due to the same factors as today: concentration of resources, quality assurance of trademarks, wish for community support (e.g. SO questions), marketing reach and herd mentality). Although initially suppliers will be diverse, the industry will soon consolidate - the same pattern as every other new technology.
Components that can't be 3D printed - e.g. silicon - will become addable modules (a cheap commodity, bought like screws/nails/pet-food pellets that you add to the hopper). Designs will modularize around this interface.
There'll be open source versions too - also consolidated, for the above reasons, as they are today.
All part of the cycle.
- The size of the stage determines the largest size of part that can be printed. The stage is necessarily smaller than the largest part of the printer.
- The print head has to have a melting point greater than the material being printed. Meaning it can't be made of the material being printed.
RepRap is a project with the state goal of creating a self-printing machine like this. But looking at the current designs, they mostly stick together common materials with some 3-D printed bits. This is much more attainable and useful than really being able to recursively print a new machine, because the common parts are produced at scale through existing channels and are stronger/cheaper than the machine-printed parts.
Will 3D printing be the foundation of 21st century manufacturing? Almost certainly not. But will the fundamental techniques drive a revolution in manufacturing and become key elements in next-generation fully automated, fast-turnaround, fully configurable manufacturing? Probably.