3D Printers Mainstream in 2-3 Years?

By on April 24th, 2011 in Ideas

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We’re reading a piece from TVNZ that introduces the concept of 3D printing to their audience, who presumably is not familiar with such things. We see similar articles frequently, but this one had an interesting quote from Professor Olaf Diegel, Director of the Creative Industries Research Institute at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. He says: 
 
I would predict within the next two to three years, everyone that has an interest in design will have one of these at home, and it’s only a matter of two or three years before they become mainstream.
 
Could this actually happen? Maybe, but we think that might be slightly optimistic. To really have a 3D printer in every home there are a couple of major barriers yet to overcome: 
 
  • Printing costs too much, and that means hardware, software and materials
  • The complexity of the 3D printing lifecycle (create/find, print, finish) is beyond the majority of people 
  • 3D Models for printing are hard to find, expensive or beyond the skills of people to prepare themselves
 
If these were overcome in the next two years, we might get somewhere, but they are very difficult issues. We believe they’ll be overcome, but probably not sufficiently within two years for that vision to be achieved. Five years, well, now you’re talking! 
  
Via TVNZ

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

4 comments

  1. Was just replying to an email from someone else on the topic, so thought it useful to add part of my reply here…

    It's only in the last couple of years that 3D printers have landed below the US$3K mark, and there are now quite a few of them below that price, some of which produce good useable models repeatably and with minimal setup and tweaking.

    Materials, which in the past, was always the big consumable (not dissimilar to the inkjet printer ink business model), has now come down in price to the level where it is entirely affordable. I pay roughly US$50/Kg for my ABS material for my smaller printers (compared to close to $1K/Kg for essentially the same material for the higher end machines). If I source the material locally from our local plastic welding rod shop, I only pay around US$25/Kg. That's so cheap that we can afford to let our students print for free on our little machines.
    It also puts them into the affordable range for the home design enthusiast.

    In our lab we use 3 of the little Up printers, a Makerbot, a BFB3000, a few cobbled together bits of reprap, and a [email protected], all of which were within that sub $3K price range. We also have two more expensive z-corp machines and a Dimension printer, but are now finding that students are mostly using the little Ups because on those they print for free and get decent models wihtout having too much messing around.

    My prediction was that decent 3D printers would hit the < $1000 mark within the next 2 to 3 years, which would make them easily accessible to all designers, and it would only take a few years after that to bring them into the mainstream market (especially as libraries of common parts become available, as they already are). I would also not be surprised if the other inkjet/laser printer manufacturers will suddenly jump on board the band wagon (much like HP did with the Dimension uPrint a year, or so, ago).

    I don't disagree with the point that, for 3D printing to become mainstream, it will depend on CAD becoming mainstream (and easier to use) too. But I can already see that starting to happen. It is now being included as part of many of our high-school curricula.

    Witness also programs like Spore Creature Creator that are, in fact, incredibly complex CAD packages that allow 5 year old kids to create amazing modesl without even knowing that they are operating a CAD system. I would predict that there will also be a range of online tools developed, over the next few years, that will allow users to customize existing products without even realizing that they are running a CAD system.

    We live in exciting times… 🙂

    Cheers
    Olaf

  2. Was just replying to an email from someone else on the topic, so thought it useful to add part of my reply here…

    It's only in the last couple of years that 3D printers have landed below the US$3K mark, and there are now quite a few of them below that price, some of which produce good useable models repeatably and with minimal setup and tweaking.

    Materials, which in the past, was always the big consumable (not dissimilar to the inkjet printer ink business model), has now come down in price to the level where it is entirely affordable. I pay roughly US$50/Kg for my ABS material for my smaller printers (compared to close to $1K/Kg for essentially the same material for the higher end machines). If I source the material locally from our local plastic welding rod shop, I only pay around US$25/Kg. That's so cheap that we can afford to let our students print for free on our little machines.
    It also puts them into the affordable range for the home design enthusiast.

    In our lab we use 3 of the little Up printers, a Makerbot, a BFB3000, a few cobbled together bits of reprap, and a [email protected], all of which were within that sub $3K price range. We also have two more expensive z-corp machines and a Dimension printer, but are now finding that students are mostly using the little Ups because on those they print for free and get decent models wihtout having too much messing around.

    My prediction was that decent 3D printers would hit the < $1000 mark within the next 2 to 3 years, which would make them easily accessible to all designers, and it would only take a few years after that to bring them into the mainstream market (especially as libraries of common parts become available, as they already are). I would also not be surprised if the other inkjet/laser printer manufacturers will suddenly jump on board the band wagon (much like HP did with the Dimension uPrint a year, or so, ago).

    I don't disagree with the point that, for 3D printing to become mainstream, it will depend on CAD becoming mainstream (and easier to use) too. But I can already see that starting to happen. It is now being included as part of many of our high-school curricula.

    Witness also programs like Spore Creature Creator that are, in fact, incredibly complex CAD packages that allow 5 year old kids to create amazing modesl without even knowing that they are operating a CAD system. I would predict that there will also be a range of online tools developed, over the next few years, that will allow users to customize existing products without even realizing that they are running a CAD system.

    We live in exciting times… 🙂

    Cheers
    Olaf

  3. Actually what the article says is very welcome, however we need to face simply the reality: owning a 3D printer since one year (3D Systems, unfortunately) and having looked around I can easily affirm that:

    *3D printer producers, despite the big numbers in terms of turnovers, are still at a very empirical/research based state: it is no industry: it is pure profit for them and that is it.

    *Inner constructions and consequent reliability are too far from mass production, a 3D printer, with current market, cannot be 'reliable by itself' for more than 3 weeks (fro any supplier, specifically for calibration issues, failed print jobs and so on).

    *There is no competition in the market to the extent to push things forward that fast to have such a optimistic scenario in such a short term, again high profit strategies and no development foresight! I have been investigating several scenarios in the spite of selling my 3D printer and I can affirm that there is absolutely very little difference between producers, just try to drop an email to one of them and see how much time it takes before they simply reply, that also tells a lot!

    *Customer service is not existing, once you got the box, it is entirely your problem!

    *High costs are mostly connected to the maintenance extra programmes and failed jobs, 300 Eur/kg in average of material is somehow still affordable, all the extra top ups make it very expensive for final customer

    In the end, yes, I was thinking the same and I was in the very same vibe, 3D printing offers indeed exceptional opportunities, unfortunately, at the current stage, these opportunities remain more theoretical than practical, just big companies like Materialize or other producers can afford to push some promotional projects into the market as they are in control of main costs, for all the rest folks, wait till patents will expire to start anything! Besides avoid for sure 3D Systems Projet line, absolute waste of big money!

  4. Actually what the article says is very welcome, however we need to face simply the reality: owning a 3D printer since one year (3D Systems, unfortunately) and having looked around I can easily affirm that:

    *3D printer producers, despite the big numbers in terms of turnovers, are still at a very empirical/research based state: it is no industry: it is pure profit for them and that is it.

    *Inner constructions and consequent reliability are too far from mass production, a 3D printer, with current market, cannot be 'reliable by itself' for more than 3 weeks (fro any supplier, specifically for calibration issues, failed print jobs and so on).

    *There is no competition in the market to the extent to push things forward that fast to have such a optimistic scenario in such a short term, again high profit strategies and no development foresight! I have been investigating several scenarios in the spite of selling my 3D printer and I can affirm that there is absolutely very little difference between producers, just try to drop an email to one of them and see how much time it takes before they simply reply, that also tells a lot!

    *Customer service is not existing, once you got the box, it is entirely your problem!

    *High costs are mostly connected to the maintenance extra programmes and failed jobs, 300 Eur/kg in average of material is somehow still affordable, all the extra top ups make it very expensive for final customer

    In the end, yes, I was thinking the same and I was in the very same vibe, 3D printing offers indeed exceptional opportunities, unfortunately, at the current stage, these opportunities remain more theoretical than practical, just big companies like Materialize or other producers can afford to push some promotional projects into the market as they are in control of main costs, for all the rest folks, wait till patents will expire to start anything! Besides avoid for sure 3D Systems Projet line, absolute waste of big money!

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