Joseph Flaherty at Replicator posits five reasons why 3D printing will never go mainstream. While we agree in principle with many of the positions, we thought we'd take a stab at a rebuttal.
Publishing on Demand Didn't
The idea is that while 2D printers became commonplace, their presence in homes didn't really change the book publishing industry. 2D books still spew from printing presses and show up on our store shelves. But, 2D printers ARE commonplace. We suspect every Fabbaloo reader has at least one nearby. Do they print books? No - they print other things that weren't possible before. 3D printers will likely do the same.
Plastics Are Complex
No kidding! The variety of material choices and breadth of physical properties is astounding and confusing. But consider this: if you were to drop by your local office supply store you'd see two things: an aisle neatly filled with ink cartridges with simple category labels suitable for Grandma to pick up the correct box. You'd also see a giant aisle filled with all manner of 2D media: plain white, envelopes, thick stock, business cards, flowery pink textile, DVD covers and mailing labels. We suspect 2D media is pretty complex, too. And somehow Staples and other shops have found a way to sell them to anyone in an easy and friendly manner. Can 3D media be that much more difficult? If media is properly categorized, then a restricted set of common media could be sold in the same manner.
3D Printers and Plastics are expensive
That is certainly true at this stage, and we wonder if a locally printed object could ever be less expensive than one from a distant factory that has the advantage of massive scale. But that advantage exists only if the factory produces what you need. If you need something different, something unique, a local 3D printer might be your only option. This need will increase as large repositories of 3D models continue to emerge, and your needs increasingly differ from that produced by the factories.
Regarding the price of the printers, yes, they are definitely expensive. And heavy. But they are much improved over previous years, and it is completely sensible to expect a continuing trend of decreasing size, weight and cost. Already the uPrint has broken some pricing barriers, and it won't be the end of that story.
Plastics are large and intricate
Current printers are hardly as convenient as a lightweight 2D Epson printer. But they are getting smaller, as stated above. While a 2D printer is fundamentally bound by the size of the 2D media being fed into it (think poster size!) the 3D printer will always be bound by the size of its build chamber. The ultimate 3D printer need only be somewhat larger than its build chamber. That obviously doesn't exist now, but why couldn't it?
Designing is hard, designing in 3D is REALLY hard
OMG, it really is hard. Very few people in the general population have a hot clue about using 3D tools, and even fewer are simultaneously artistic and technically savvy. This, we agree is true, and we can never expect random individuals to become 3D modelers who can crack open 3DS Max and whip up a revolutionary tilting ashtray before afternoon tea. But neither did we expect people to build their own database-driven websites, produce professional quality 2D magazines, record and distribute professionally mixed video podcasts or build an entire virtual world the size of a US state.
But they did.
We think the solutions to the "Really Hard" problem are the same as has been done in these other areas: plug and play standardization of techniques, sharing of information, online repositories, online assistance from knowledgeable people, all driven by people who want to make the world better.
There - we feel a lot better now!
We totally agree with Replicator; these five issues are astoundingly difficult, but challenges are what humans are made for. We think they'll be overcome, sooner or later.