We read a very interesting take on the future of mass customization from the Shapeways blog, in which they propose a future vision of 3D printing. They view the current mass media understanding of 3D printing, in which everyone has a 3D printer on their desk and they happily create 3D models and print them out whenever necessary, as a false future. We agree that the public will generally not produce their own models. They cite the "Singer Problem", where no one needs to buy clothes if everyone had a sewing machine. We suppose that is technically true, but in reality very few people create clothes from scratch with a sewing machine.
Shapeways believes, and we agree, that the future will not unfold in the way the mass media expects. 3D models are too complex for the general public to create on their own, and indeed even if they could it doesn't mean you always have the best ideas for models yourself. The key is to share models in some fashion, and that's precisely Shapeway's approach. They provide a platform for sharing models and also a means to print them on different kinds of equipment.
They pose an intriguing list of three tipping points for 3D printing:
When someone develops a 3D modeling application that anyone can use and many can master(and that produces good printable files).
When someone develops a post consumer recycled 3D printing material
When printing metal and circuits becomes cheap
We couldn't agree more, and believe that print services such as Shapeways and others will always have a role in the manufacturing future. However, as devices become inexpensive they will start showing up on people's desks. What happens then? We think the print services will continue to provide specialized printing to supplement the inevitably limited home printing options.
Via Shapeways Blog