Christopher Mims writes his opinion of 3D printing futures on the MIT Technology Review blog, where he suggests that 3D printing will never become a "mature technology that can reproduce all the goods on which we rely". He goes on to suggest that to believe so is a "complete denial of the complexities of modern manufacturing".
We think Mims is right and wrong. He's right that today's 3D printers and even those envisioned for the next few years are (and will be) limited in capability. They print in a limited selection of materials with constrained physical properties and indeed that is problematic if you intend on using printed objects for general use.
He's wrong that 3D printing will "go the way of virtual reality". To us, the signs are present: we have a technology gradually improving in capability, price and effectiveness with a great many people working on it. We have massive numbers of 3D capable people appearing, acquainted with 3D via design, gaming or entertainment.
And there's something else.
Personalization. The 20th century was the period of mass production. Many identical cheap items were made for all purposes. Today people have become more demanding of objects that more precisely match their needs. And we call that personalization. 3D printing can achieve that, at least for an increasing subset of items.
As people grow more accustomed to personalization, the percentage of 3D printed items will rise. If the percentage of 3D printed items rises, then it becomes more important, and does not "go the way of virtual reality".
What say you? Will we become less interested in personalized objects in the future, or more so? I think you know what we think.