Two 3D Printing Downers

We’ve just read not one, but two articles from reputable publications that appear to dismiss the notion of personal 3D printing. TechCrunch’s Jon Evans wrote “3D Printers Are Not Like 2D Printers: A Rant”, while Scientific American’s Gary Stix wrote “3-D Printing: The Great American Tchotchke Machine”. 
 
Stix’s premise is that personal 3D printers are not particularly useful and would typically be used to print tchotchkes (a slavic word meaning trinkets). He says: 
 
The ability to create the tchotchke of your choice doesn’t seem to  measure up exactly to the changes wrought at work and home by XyWrite, Visicalc or other early PC applications.
 
and
 
Having a tchotchke maker in the basement workshop or the family room seems like kind of a non-starter. The world is not hankering after more hands-on access to a wonderful world of clutter.
 
Meanwhile, Evans says: 
 
People. Listen. 3D printing is not just 2D printing with another dimension added on. Yes, the names are very similar, but their uses are not even remotely analogous. We may reasonably conclude, therefore, that 1) 3D printing will not recapitulate the history of 2D printing, 2) as soon as you make an argument along those lines you lose all credibility and look like an idiot. 
 
He suggests that paper printing is simply manipulation of information, while 3D printers produce “real stuff”. That’s pretty much true. 
 
We agree and disagree with these points. Yes, personal 3D printing is not particularly useful to the general public – at the moment. One must remember that this is still the very earliest stage of development. It’s so early that we still haven’t even settled on the basic technology to be used by personal 3D printers: Is it extruded plastic or optically fused liquid resin? We Don’t Know Yet. There are a host of companies experimenting with these and other approaches, both technological and business. This could be a time analogous to 2D printing prior to inkjet tech or even dot-matrix tech. 
 
Two conclusions: First, it’s way to early to make any calls on this. Secondly, it’s still a ton of fun. Start printing. Now.
 
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6 Responses

  1. OK, but you make my point: its a hobby for you, and you're learning new things, which is great. But that is not a viable home market, which is the point of the article, and the basis of my comments. I've been in 3D for over two decades, and I have seen analysts try to make markets out of air. There is nothing wrong with the hobbyist aspect of 3D printing at present. It is going through a natural maturation process. But the idea that is being oversold, as so many things in tech are, that this is soon prime time for home use (meaning, almost anyone) is clearly not valid at present.

    Here's the thing: FDM-based prints are crude, full of gaps, irregular, and have unsightly artifacts. At best, FDM prints from ABS are just 30% as strong as an injection-molded part, which means that FDM parts will not be viable as replacements for many uses. Also, FDM parts suffer form very low shear-force tolerance, which means they can be twisted apart at the layer boundary with sufficient force. Injection molded parts do not have this problem.

    Add to the above the skill set that has been required (up to now) to get anything decent out of these machines, as well as the skill set to produce 3D parts in various software programs, and you have yourself a very limited market. Interesting, but limited. And that is the point of the article.

    Things will improve, slowly, but again, the home-based use case will always have limits. I'm not dissing the tech at all, just keeping the expectations reasonable.

  2. OK, but you make my point: its a hobby for you, and you're learning new things, which is great. But that is not a viable home market, which is the point of the article, and the basis of my comments. I've been in 3D for over two decades, and I have seen analysts try to make markets out of air. There is nothing wrong with the hobbyist aspect of 3D printing at present. It is going through a natural maturation process. But the idea that is being oversold, as so many things in tech are, that this is soon prime time for home use (meaning, almost anyone) is clearly not valid at present.

    Here's the thing: FDM-based prints are crude, full of gaps, irregular, and have unsightly artifacts. At best, FDM prints from ABS are just 30% as strong as an injection-molded part, which means that FDM parts will not be viable as replacements for many uses. Also, FDM parts suffer form very low shear-force tolerance, which means they can be twisted apart at the layer boundary with sufficient force. Injection molded parts do not have this problem.

    Add to the above the skill set that has been required (up to now) to get anything decent out of these machines, as well as the skill set to produce 3D parts in various software programs, and you have yourself a very limited market. Interesting, but limited. And that is the point of the article.

    Things will improve, slowly, but again, the home-based use case will always have limits. I'm not dissing the tech at all, just keeping the expectations reasonable.

  3. I do wonder why people try so hard to discount this sort of thing, why they insist on imposing their own lack of imagination on others. We went from string and canvas to VTOL and spaceflight in just over a lifetime, doesn't that illustrate why it is silly to impose artificial limits on things. PCs started out as educational toys and evolved fairly quickly to a platform that wiped out the mini and most mainframes.

    Yes FDM is lower resolution, at the moment, but it may be good enough for a wide range of applications and it's immediacy may well compensate for the lack of refinement and finish and even availability.

    I'm building my first printer, it's a clunky Prusa but I can promise you it won't be my last and each replacement will be better than the last. It will produce some useful things and some toys/trinkets of little value, but I will also learn about mechanical engineering, electronics, CNC, materials science, polymers and programming along the way. I will be able to create tangible objects that solve my problems and teach my children to do the same.

    Eventually we will get to the stage where we can build stuff we need that can't be ordered from Amazon ..

    History has taught me to ignore what the discounters think, we'll be too busy learning, creating and having fun printing machines and robots and ceramics and 3D electronics and personalised vehicles and …

  4. I do wonder why people try so hard to discount this sort of thing, why they insist on imposing their own lack of imagination on others. We went from string and canvas to VTOL and spaceflight in just over a lifetime, doesn't that illustrate why it is silly to impose artificial limits on things. PCs started out as educational toys and evolved fairly quickly to a platform that wiped out the mini and most mainframes.

    Yes FDM is lower resolution, at the moment, but it may be good enough for a wide range of applications and it's immediacy may well compensate for the lack of refinement and finish and even availability.

    I'm building my first printer, it's a clunky Prusa but I can promise you it won't be my last and each replacement will be better than the last. It will produce some useful things and some toys/trinkets of little value, but I will also learn about mechanical engineering, electronics, CNC, materials science, polymers and programming along the way. I will be able to create tangible objects that solve my problems and teach my children to do the same.

    Eventually we will get to the stage where we can build stuff we need that can't be ordered from Amazon ..

    History has taught me to ignore what the discounters think, we'll be too busy learning, creating and having fun printing machines and robots and ceramics and 3D electronics and personalised vehicles and …

  5. FDM is problematic and lower resolution, therefore is of limited use, especially at home. Photopolymer is capable of producing much better prints, but has cost/usability issues at present. Polyjet is good but expensive.

    For real home use, part data for real things needs to be online, free, and easy to find and use. Some examples of this already exist. But high dot per part means that Amazon has nothing to worry about for some time to one.

    For the arts and small biz, however, 3D printing is already making a bug impact and will continue to do so. But the low rez and crude FDM printers will or ever be hobby toys. Unfortunately, these printers are the face of the fad at the moment.

  6. FDM is problematic and lower resolution, therefore is of limited use, especially at home. Photopolymer is capable of producing much better prints, but has cost/usability issues at present. Polyjet is good but expensive.

    For real home use, part data for real things needs to be online, free, and easy to find and use. Some examples of this already exist. But high dot per part means that Amazon has nothing to worry about for some time to one.

    For the arts and small biz, however, 3D printing is already making a bug impact and will continue to do so. But the low rez and crude FDM printers will or ever be hobby toys. Unfortunately, these printers are the face of the fad at the moment.

Comments are closed.

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