That sweet spot could be described as the place where inexpensive 3D printers could be obtained by any small business or any interested consumer, where supplies and designs are easily found and used. The 2D printing market of today gives us hints of what might be: inexpensive devices in homes for basic and immediate prints, more capable devices shared by users of service bureaus and monster printers hidden in the back rooms of major companies.
We’re obviously not there yet. But we’re heading that way, and from two directions.
First, from the top we have the commercial manufacturers, such as ZCorp, Dimension, Objet, Solido, 3D Systems, EnvisionTEC and others gradually building 3D printers that are higher in capability and lower in cost. At some point one of them will hit that sweet spot.
Meanwhile, from the bottom we have hobbyist / hacker initiatives such as MakerBot, RepRap, Fab@Home, The Rap-Man and others gradually producing 3D printers that are higher in capability and very low in cost. At some point one of them will hit that sweet spot.
See what we mean? It’s a race. Who do you think will win?
Hi, There is also the UP desktop 3D printer (out of the box 3d printing) available from http://www.3dprintingsystems.com
Very interesting post, and raises a number of questions:
Looking at it from the point of view of the "consumer", I wonder if there are any examples of the kind of department would want to do this now.
In a major company for example, what kind of skills and needs would that department have? Would it be born in a computer lab, or would it be something that would tend to live next to some printers or photocopiers, assisted by a technician/designer? Or does it really need to be used directly by all? It's probably not hard to identify a few areas where this could be really useful already – seeing as prices of long distance transport of goods are going up. The problem might initially be an amateur production quality compared to the companies that today deliver the products that 3d printers intend to replace.
How much would it need to fab so it could pay for itself, and for the initial decision that it's actually cost effective to order in plastics or other materials and create something in-house rather than order bespoke parts or buy from production companies? It reminds me of stories from the 1800s where companies would produce their own electricity to run their machines.
This also brings to mind the ecological issues – the next step is to actually produce the basic plastics or other materials in house as well – from local vegetable waste for example.
And same questions for the other groups that might want one – for the home it's obviously a hobbyist thing, a creative endeavour mixing design with production – I think once something like the reprap can come down to around £100 you could see it being taken up at a larger scale. Pushing these things in schools could be a major way in to that.
And at a slightly different level, the equivalent of a printer or fax machine in a corner shop – so you could run out and replace day to day items, might only be a small part of the shop, but I think it's only once these things become mainstream in the first two levels that people will understand and seek out fablab areas or shops with a reprap round the back.