A 2008 quote attributed to Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager at Google says: "Think of RepRap as a China on your desktop."
We strongly resonate with that image. Instead of receiving goods from China, which evidently manufactures all things these days, you can drop a 3D printer on your desk and manufacture things yourself. We Want To Do That!
But there are some issues:
- The build quality of today's 3D printers (at least the semi-affordable ones) is not quite equivalent to mainstream Chinese manufacturers
- The objects made in China have been professionally designed, tested and safety certified. Are yours? If not, where do you get the right 3D model to print?
- The build chamber of many 3D printers is smaller than the object you want to print. Therefore you must print parts and then assemble them. In some cases, this could be difficult
But let's assume these and other issues are eventually solved. You have a quality printer, a great design and you can rapidly print out your item.
It's still not China.
That's because the unit price of printing items yourself will never approach the low cost levels of Chinese manufacturers. Your printer will be idle for much of the day, while Chinese equipment efficiently spins 24 hours per day, tended by low-cost staff, producing items at extremely low cost. Home printing can never match China on cost.
And that's the tradeoff we're all faced with: Design choice but expensive, or Inexpensive with limited choice. Choose one.
Image Credit: Joi Via Wikipedia under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic