3D printing is hitting the news a lot these days.
There are dozens of technologies waiting to do the work for you. You can print chairs. You can print cars and airplanes. You can even print skin back onto your body. There is a growing sense that 3D printers are going to start appearing in every house. It’s the new inkjet printer… why buy stuff when you can just print it out?
I’m a big fan of 3D printing, but that’s not going to happen. Not anytime soon.
One of the reasons I enjoy Joseph Flaherty’s Replicator blog, which is dedicated to mass customization and 3D printing, is that he takes the long view on these matters. He knows there are many barriers to mainstream usage of 3D printing. In this post he sums up what is and isn’t possible:
Replacement coat hooks and air conditioner knobs are not going to drive broad adoption and there are too many technical hurdles to take on complex objects like cell phones.
So what is possible then? Is it still worth getting excited about?
What’s possible (and exciting) is that it enables a whole class of serious amateurs. Flaherty describes this as product design as a hobby, and it’s sure to drive a fascinating wave of new products. Here’s a success story of one such product. Two designers came up with an idea for a tripod to support an iPhone. The widget they invented, with the help of 3D printing, is called the Glif. They raised all the money they needed on Kickstarter (another interesting story), and now they have business.
I can’t say for sure whether or not the Glif designers would have built a business without novel technology (3D printing) and novel access to capital (Kickstarter). But even if it didn’t enable it, it sure accelerated the whole process. And in times like these, we need the ideas that serious amateurs are going to bring us.