3D printing: Will it ever be available for all of us?

Lets start with a little bit of 3D printing history. In the late 80’s 3D printing wasn’t called 3D printing yet. It started off as a way of low cost prototyping (3dprintingindustry, 2015). In the late 90’s and 00’s new 3D printing techniques were developed but were still solely focussed on industrial applications. In the 00’s 3D printing techniques were changing. There were still high-end 3D printing solutions but cheap and low cost 3D printing solutions also originated. This change resulted eventually in the first commercially available 3D printer in 2009 (3dprintingindustry, 2015).

Currently 3D printing is used in many different industries. One of the most well known applications is printing of machinery parts in industrial facilities. Below you see a graph with the fields of application over time.

NaamloosApplication of 3D printing over time (Harrop, 2014)

Next to this application within the business field, 3D printing is also available, for us, as customers. Start-ups such as 3D hubs connect consumers to 3D printers (3Dhubs, 2015). 3D printing is within our grasp with these new platforms and developments, but will we really 3D print the necklace we designed in the future? I think 3D printing is a great solution for the industry in terms of prototyping, spare parts and so on. But I really doubt whether we are really going to use it ourselves, in our own home. 3D printing is not particularly sustainable. If we keep on printing the stuff we want we will be left with a big amount of redundant 3D printed objects. Next to the fact that it is not very sustainable, it also deals with serious safety issues. Everyone who knows to handle a designing program could make a 3D print drawing and print it. How are we going to regulate unsafe printing and enforce this? Apart from the safety issue, we also face the issue of capital insensitivity. To be able to print the things we really want (personalized to a high extend), we need expensive printers that are currently not available for the consumer market. You can buy a cheap printer but it only allows you to print small objects. It is still an illusion that you can print your own designed couch or chairs at your own house.

3D printing offers us great possibilities in terms of designing, personalizing and acquiring the products that we want as consumers. However, I think due to regulation and capital insensitivity it will not become the second printer in your house. Do you think 3D printing will be available for all of us in the near future?

SSID: 345222lh


3Dhubs. (2015, 01 01). 3Dhubs.com. Accessed: 10 8, 2015, from 3Dhubs.com: https://www.3dhubs.com/how-to-hub

3dprintingindustry. (2015, 01 01). History of 3D printing: The free beginner’s guide. Accessed: 10 8, 2015, from 3Dprintingindustry: http://3dprintingindustry.com/3d-printing-basics-free-beginners-guide/history/

Harrop, J. (2014, 06 01). Applications of 3D printing 2014-2024: Forecasts, Markets, Players. Accessed: 10 8, 2015, from idtechex.com: http://www.idtechex.com/research/reports/applications-of-3d-printing-2014-2024-forecasts-markets-players-000385.asp


3 responses to “3D printing: Will it ever be available for all of us?”

  1. stefanbouts says :

    Interesting post regarding 3D printing! I personally have no experience with 3D printing, mainly due to the costs issue that you raised.

    I agree on your final conclusion that 3D printing will most likely not be available to the wide public or be a dominant method of production in industrial applications. I’d like to elaborate on the point of costs for 3D printing. Although the printing costs are falling due to cheaper material and small DIY 3D printer kits, people often overlook the costs of labor involved in 3D printing. The pre-printing process currently takes a significant amount of time due to the knowledge needed to create the needed 3D-file for a custom printing job.

    As for the industrial side of the story, the costs for manufacturers to buy a industrial printer, filaments, modeling software and the labor costs of modelling combined with the notion that 3D printing is usually only used for custom jobs which keeps the per-unit cost high means that even in industrial applications the use of 3D printing is limited.



  2. 372147nh says :

    Thank you for introducing this subject. The question you raise is very interesting to think about. In my opinion the advantages to the use of a 3D printer need to emerge before people start using it as ‘a second printer’. For now, the advantages of 3D printing mostly apply to companies and healthcare. As you’ve mentioned in your blog, companies can use 3D printers for prototyping, which will make innovation easier and faster. Furthermore, I believe that 3D printing is most valuable for the healthcare industry. Hospitals can use 3D printing to getter a better understanding of diseases and the anatomy of the body. Also, as it will make life easier for patients as the printer can create implants that are customized to the patient’s body.
    I agree that the 3D printer will not be an innovation that individuals will use. However, it will be further developed in other industries and will have a big impact on people’s lives.

  3. nielsvanderwolf says :

    Very interesting post. I agree with you that the larger 3D printers, for example to print your own designed couch or chairs, are most probably not going to be available for ‘all of us’. However, why would anyone need one of those? If you want to buy a chair nowadays, you don’t manufacture it yourself either, you just go to the furniture store. Why would that be any different if these chairs would be manufactured with 3D printers? I believe that the larger 3D printers could be useful for the market. These 3D printers are expensive to buy, but the variable costs (materials, electricity etc.) are very low. Therefore, furniture stores could manufacture cheaply, which will reduce the price for the customer.
    I think the smaller 3D printers will be available for ‘all of us’. At this moment, it’s already possible to buy a small 3D printer for about €1000. These printers could be used for smaller items, like parts, but also plates and cutlery.
    The most important disadvantages of 3D printing would be that the printing of copyrighted products to create counterfeit items will become more common and nearly impossible to determine and that 3D printers can create dangerous items, such as guns and knives, with very little or no oversight.

    Niels van der Wolf


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