The Spectrum of 3D Printer Operators and Why It Is Important

By on March 13th, 2018 in Ideas


 The different types of 3D printer users
The different types of 3D printer users

I have a suspicion that many people don’t recognize there are some very different types of people using 3D printers, each with unique characteristics. 

I came upon this realization after watching one of the multitude of YouTube videos on desktop 3D printing. In this particular video, the presenter was touting a specific machine as possibly being the “best” 3D printer one could get. 

But this didn’t make sense to me. The machine being described in the video was a very small, incredibly inexpensive kit that required considerable assembly. The presenter appeared thrilled with the device, the result, and even the challenge of building it from a kit of basic parts. Along the journey of assembly the presenter offered a number of hints of future modifications he may consider to improve the machine. 

I don’t particularly like building a machine myself. I prefer to have them work properly and make things with them. I must be different than this particular presenter. In fact, there are a number of different user types working with 3D printing. 

Here’s my take on the major categories of 3D printer users:

DIY Hobbyist: These highly capable individuals like to experiment, build, modify and analyze 3D printers. They prefer the lowest possible pricing and often make or procure components themselves. They don’t need much help, as they can very often figure out what’s going on in significant detail all by themselves. If the machine breaks, it could be a fun challenge to fix it. 

Professional: This professional individual, perhaps an architect, industrial designer, or engineer is highly technical, but not necessarily in 3D printing and almost certainly not in 3D printer construction. Their goal is to deliver their project work, and use of their 3D printer is only a step on that journey. They want the device to fit smoothly into their existing workflow and not occupy any significant time or require much effort. They have less concern about machine cost, so long as it fits within their departmental budget. 

Business Operator: The business operator’s goal is to run their machines as much as possible to obtain the most value from their investment. Typically they’re found in 3D print services or internal 3D print departments, where they seek machines that can be operated quickly and efficiently, regardless of how hard it is to learn the machine, because that happens only once. They need a machine that produces consistent results year after year without change. They care much less about the cost of the machine, so long as their cash flow from printing jobs exceeds the cost of the machine. 

Consumer: This category doesn’t really exist, but let’s describe it anyway. The consumer wants a machine available at low cost and at the same time offers an extremely easy method of use that could be grasped in almost zero time. They also want machines that are extraordinarily reliable and certainly do not wish to build their own machines. Since there really are few if any machines that meet these characteristics, it’s no surprise there are almost no true consumers using 3D printers. 

The problem is that these groups don’t often recognize that each other exists. DIY Hobbyists often ponder why someone would want an expensive machine you couldn’t modify, while the Business Operators would scoff at an inexpensive machine that could not ensure consistent quality materials required for production parts. 

The truth here is that there are indeed many different user types seeking 3D printers, and each has very different characteristics. The good news is that the industry has provided a wide variety of options to choose from. 

Just because a particular machine isn’t for you, doesn’t mean it isn’t good for someone else. 

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!