We've been reading Todd Grimm's provocative post, Standing up to Hype: A Pragmatist’s View, in which he describes his position on the capability of 3D printing. Todd is frustrated with mainstream media who all-too-often wildly extrapolate the idea of 3D printing into an unrealistic science fiction future of Star Trek replicators in every kitchen. He frequently plays "the pragmatist" who brings those overly excited readers back down to earth.
He's not the only one in that position, too. Rachel Park has said similar things and Develop3D has issued what they call a 3D Printing in the home Reality Check.
We agree with all this. If you've ever used a 3D printer you'll quickly encounter all manner of restrictions and constraints, not the least of which is the incredible time delay before you see finished objects. We all recall the frustration when we first attempted to print a 50 page paper document at home and found it took almost half a hour to complete! Try printing pretty much anything on an accessible 3D printer and you'll think that paper printer was quite fast.
How Big Can I Print? No, you can't print big things.
How many colors? One.
Can I Drink From That Printed Cup? No.
I'll never need to go to the store again, right? Nope. And so on.
Sure, there's a let down. But there's more to the story.
In spite of all those frustrations, 3D printing is still amazing. It is endlessly fascinating to see object appear, albeit slowly at times. Yes, they're not the right color and look pretty rough, but you have them in your hands and you can make more. 3D printing is a (rough and limited) power that the public can now access. The public has never had even that limited power before.
Although the technology has existed for more than 25 years, it's still in the very earliest stages in the consumers space. We know the technology will continue to improve and grow and come down in cost. Will we have replicators in every kitchen? Who knows, but we support those who try to make a difference, those who improve the tech and make it more accessible. If that science fiction future ever becomes real, it will be due to those with a vision and the initiative to try.