We've all seen this button many times. It's how you produce 2D paper output, and you've used it perhaps all your life, maybe every day. It works because it's easy. It works because it's familiar. It works because all the hard stuff is already figured out for you behind the scenes.
Enter personal 3D printing.
Question: Where's my 3D Print Button?
Answer: There isn't one.
No kidding, there really isn't one, if you examine the workflow necessary to successfully perform 3D printing in your home on a personal 3D printer. Let's take a look at a typical personal 3D print workflow:
- Design or obtain a desirable 3D model
- Verify the 3D model is printable by visual inspection
- If necessary, clean up the model using an appropriate software tool
- Use another software tool to position, rotate and scale your model for the build platform and envelope
- Launch your slicing software and verify the settings are correct for your printer, material, heads, etc.
- Slice the model into printable GCODE
- Visually verify the GCODE is more or less correct with a software tool
- If you desire multiple copies and have something like MakerBot's automated build platform with conveyer belt, manually prepare sufficient code iterations within the GCODE
- Store the resulting GCODE on an SD card
- Eject and walk the SD card over to your 3D printer and insert the card into its reader
- Power on the printer and select the appropriate GCODE file from the SD card
- Initiate the 3D print
- Await the completion of the print
- Peel the print off the build platform and clean it up by hand
This sequence is typically performed by those owning personal 3D printers today, give or take a few steps. But there's more complications that make this even more difficult: several of the steps can take considerable time to complete; many of the steps are done using separate, and sometimes not-particularly-friendly software programs; several of the software programs are pretty complex and require skills and experience; some software runs only on specific platforms, meaning you might have to use multiple or virtual machines to complete your workflow.
When you write it all down like this, it does appear quite challenging. Certainly many people are able to make their way through this lengthy workflow, but there are many, many more people who could not ever even attempt to execute them. And those people are the potential future users of personal 3D printers. They're the people who are used to simply striking the "Print" button.
If personal 3D printing is ever to grow, this can't go on. The majority of people require a greatly simplified print workflow. But what might that look like? We'll envision a possible future in Part 2 soon.