3D Printing For A Digitized World?

 

3D Printing Cropped

 

What was the last thing you bought? Did you buy it at a store? Or online? Most of us never give a second thought as to how things are made.  But virtually everything is still made by traditional manufacturing practices. Time and time again, parts are created by machining, injection molding, and the numerous other traditional manufacturing methods. This is something that we just take for granted.  But it’s 2016. In many regards, it’s crazy to think that we still make products the same way as we did 50 years ago. We live in a digitized world.  We have computers in our hand, the internet, and soon to be autonomous cars.  So why not digitized manufacturing? Ok yes, there are a lot more computerization and automation in traditional manufacturing, but essentially the core process hasn’t changed. So is 3D printing our ticket to revolutionizing how things are made?

Many people had predicted that by now, we would be well on our way to the next 3D printing revolution. Soon would be the days where if you needed new glasses, you’d just download the glasses and hit print. No more shopping around at stores. Our 3D printers would be our new way of shopping and getting almost everything. But yet, most of us still have our slow speed FDM printer sitting on our desk churning away at the latest trinket that we created. And let’s be honest, the majority of what’s created, while cool, is not all that practical. And while a lot of the hype around 3D printing has worn off, there’s still something mesmerizing about watching your model come to life. But why aren’t we making our next iPhone case and shoes with our 3D printer? Will we ever see the day where 3D printers will revolutionize the way we manufacture, buy, and distribute products?

Assembly Line

Let’s think back a little over 100 years ago. Around this time was the Second Industrial Revolution. This was a time when there was a rise in factories, electricity, and the assembly line made famous by Henry Ford. There was rapid growth in innovation. Along with telephones came globalization and communication. Now fast forward to the 90’s. This was the dawn of the computer era and the early beginnings of the internet. And while the internet and computers have made profound advancements in our daily lives, we’re essentially living the same as we did 50 years ago. We still buy our stuff at stores (ok a lot more online) as well as go to work in our daily jobs (many of which still revolve around manufacturing). Some people would argue that we have seen the peak of rapid innovation of ideas and designs that were seen during the First and Second Industrial Revolution. But 3D printing has the ability to turn all of this on its head.

So why the slower growth than expected into shaking up how we make things? While there are a lot of setbacks such as material selections, quality, etc., there are 3 primary reasons holding it back. Let’s dig into these to see the argument for why 3D printing still has enormous potential.

 

1.) “Desktop” 3D printers have a lot to be desired in speed and quality.  This is obviously the biggest hurdle that still needs to overcome. While 3D printing has been around for decades, the explosion of the inexpensive desktop printer has really taken off in recent years. However, the rapid improvements that have been made still don’t get around the fact that they are painfully slow to make even the smallest of parts. And yet, if you do trade off speed, the surface finish and structural quality diminishes. However, companies have been slowly increasing the speeds and quality.  And just like any other technology, as it matures, the quality and speed will go up and the price will go down.  Just look at the desktop inkjet printer.  One promising company making leaps and bounds in this arena is Carbon 3D. They have developed a new technology called CLIP(Continuous Liquid Interface Production) that promises to create injection molded quality parts at a fraction of the speeds of current FDM and SLA printers.Cube

2.) The lack of truly useful 3D models. While there are literally hundreds of thousands(if not millions) of free and paid models available for just about anything, the vast majority of these while cool, are usually not very practical. And even though you can find some useful prints, many times they are hard to find mixed in with the thousands of other models. This is where Print3d Mart is trying to turn this problem on its head. Their goal is to compile only useful, practical 3D “products” that will drive people to take a step back and realize the true implications that 3D printers have to offer. This will help propel people into finding the things that really help bring 3D printing into the usefulness that it can become.

3.) The limited uses of 3D printed parts. How many uses can you find for something made purely out of plastic? Sure, there are hundreds upon hundreds, but think of all the things you interact with on a daily basis.  Virtually all of them have other components than just pure plastic.  This is the other fundamental issue that is holding back 3D printing. Right now, virtually everything in the 3D printing industry, from the 3D models you can download, to the 3D printing services, focuses only on the printing of the models. It does not take into account the fact that most things that we use everyday incorporate multiples parts, materials, as well as assembling the thing. There is a huge disconnect between a full design of a “product” and what’s currently offered in most online repositories. This is another example with how Print3d Mart is trying to shake up how we think of “3d things”.  Instead of digital models only including the files for the plastic components, it also includes assembly instructions and non 3D printed parts.  This can have a profound affect into how designers think about ideas.

So is 3D printing heading to be just another cool novelty to chock up on the shelf?  Not even close.  While it has definitely not lived up to the hype that was all over the news in the last couple years, it is by far from dead.  The DIY desktop printer growth is still at an all time high.  The question is, where will it find its place?  With new technology like Carbon 3D and startups like Print3d Mart, it’s only a matter of time before we truly see the powerful future 3D printing has in our world.

Until next time, happy printing!

Craig