We spent some time picking the extensive brain of Pete Basiliere, Gartner’s point person on 3D printing technology.
Gartner is a well-known consulting organization that provides research, analysis and predictions on a wide variety of technology areas, including information technology and hardware. One of the specific areas they focus on is 3D printing, and Basiliere is their analyst assigned to the technology. He interacts with vendors and customers to learn as much as possible about developments in and use of 3D printing, and then produces realistic analyses of the space for clients.
We sat down with Basiliere to ask some questions about where the 3D printing industry is heading.
This is part 1 of a 2-part interview. Part 2 is here.
Fabbaloo: Gartner has just published its “Predicts” report on 3D printing, largely based on your research. Can you tell us something about the report? Where does it come from?
Pete Basiliere: Every year Gartner produces our predictions about technology and trends across a wide range of topics, and this is obviously one of them.
It is the result of analysts that are quite familiar, if not expert in, the various areas. We put our heads together and talk about what we think the trends are and how real they will be over the next three years.
It's a process whereby the individual analysts may suggest a prediction and then we peer review the prediction with the analysts that are familiar with the topic from around the world. Then we whittle it down, refine it and bring it to a point where we feel comfortable saying “Hey we think this is what things might look like in three to five years." and “This is what you need to know.”
The important thing about this report is not its rightness or wrongness, although as analysts and as individuals we want to be accurate. It's an important input into decision makers' thinking about their company strategies and what's going to be impacting their businesses and therefore what they do today, anticipating the potentiality of these predictions coming to pass.
Fabbaloo: In the report, you said it's unlikely that additive manufacturing 3D printing will ever completely supplant mass production in any consumer goods market subsector. Could you ever see a path towards consumer use? What do we need to do to get consumers 3D printing?
Pete Basiliere: Right now the only case for having a 3D printer in the home, aside from hobbyists of one type or other, is for educational purposes.
If my three kids were in high school I would not hesitate to buy a 3D printer. In that respect the 3D printers is the "Plaster of Paris" of my day. I would definitely have had a 3D printer if I could. Any of the STEAM programs would benefit from having a 3D printer on which they could do schoolwork and projects and such.
Hobbyists will buy them as well, obviously. My father-in-law is an avid model railroader, as an example. If he was younger he probably would invest in one because he can make unique dioramas and components for his model railroad. I think there will be some people that will indeed use a 3D printer at home. But the only really good strong use case in my mind is for education.
Fabbaloo: I guess the fact that the 3D designs for home spare parts are under lock and key by the manufacturers and until they release them that's just never going to be something that can practically take place.
Pete Basiliere: Three years or so ago now we had a colleague here at Gartner who had a latch break on his oven, two days before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. He was able to go to Thingiverse and found a design for that latch, believe it or not. Then he went to 3D Hubs and found somebody in the next town over that was willing to print the part for him. It cost only a couple of bucks.
Would I buy a 3D printer on the off chance that something breaks that could be 3D printed? No, I wouldn't do that. But I can definitely see that access to those kinds of services, whether it's through 3D Hubs in the next town over, or a home improvement store or somewhere else, that makes some sense.
But I don't see buying one. I wouldn't buy one and I don't see many people buying one “just to have one”.
With the range of materials, such as plastic, metal and such required to make useful objects, I could go out and buy a material extrusion 3D printer and make the wrong choice because it can't print the material that I actually need for the spare part!
Fabbaloo: Industries are switching over to 3D printing for particular components and you were describing how some companies are setting up "3D printing centers of excellence" to provide training and coordinate the 3D transformation. This is obviously a good idea, but what about the companies that are perhaps too small or don't know how to do that? Should they give up? Should they partner with somebody? Is there some sort of outsourcing that they should be doing? What happens to the smaller guys?
Pete Basiliere: Heaven forbid they should give up! One of the first steps could be an in-house makerspace. For less than USD$10,000 you can get a material extrusion printer, and you can get a stereolithography printer. You can get a handheld 3D scanner, as well as the software. So for a modest investment, you can set up a little space in the office environment, perhaps down on the production floor or where ever you wish, it doesn't matter. Then let people have at it!
I've been talking about this approach for years, actually, and it's because in many larger organizations typically departmental managers will have capital spending authority that goes up to USD$10,000. Spend that kind of money, bring in a machine or two and not just let all of your designers and engineers have at it, but also allow other people within the company, because you're going to find a lot of people who are in customer service, or in sales and marketing, maybe someone that has a child in school, will come up with ideas for new products or improvements on processes.
Some of the best uses for 3D printing and manufacturing are actually for tools, jigs and fixtures. If you bring in a 3D printer and a person that works on the assembly line sees what it can do, that assembler may turn around and talk to an engineer and say "Hey! If you could fix this jig the quality of my work will improve, or the throughput of my production will improve." In other words, a makerspace can allow a lot of people to experience 3D printing and get you going without setting up a formal Center of Excellence.
Fabbaloo: I think what you're saying also is that the mere presence of something like that unleashes the creativity in all of the staff.
Pete Basiliere: Exactly. It's still true to this day. I could try describing a 3D printed part to a person and they wouldn't "get it". But if I showed them the 3D printed piece and then depicted how it was made, it's like a light bulb goes on.
That's the advantage, whether it's a makerspace for a small business or a center of excellence for a larger one. The whole idea is to get people thinking outside of the box and to unlearn what they've learned about what can and cannot be done with 3D printing.
This is part 1 of a 2-part interview. Part 2 is here.