3D Printing: The Next Big Wave?


There is a lot of hype around 3D printing in the last couple of years. With the availability of cheaper and cheaper printers, there are simply more printers out there. Currently the 3D printing industry is about $3B and growing. But what are we going to do with this technology?

Right now there are some exciting developments in medical and food industries. We are now printing prosthetics and braces and plan to print everything from new teeth, medical models from CT scans, and soon, replacement organs. This amazing technology has incredible applications.

Many out there have a vision of a 3D printer in every home. With advances in technology, this is possible and we may soon be able to create many of the consumables inside our own home. But right now the “killer” app for consumers does not exist.

Gartner publishes every year a Hype Cycle that shows the latest technologies and their progress into mainstream technology. Right now consumer 3D printing sits on the precarious top of the hype cycle. This means that it’s an exciting technology, but we as an industry need to prove it! Soon it will sit in the dreaded “trough of disillusionment” as we all stare at our home 3D printers and wonder what to do with them.

Here are a couple of problems with consumer 3D printing. Only someone with a technical degree can use them. Creating a model from scratch and creating what we have in our heads is very difficult. The technology is coming along, but still has a learning curve and require many hours to figure it out and create something close to what we are thinking.

I know that there is the Thingiverse and companies like Shapeways that are trying to bring 3D printing to the consumer. But right now they are a giant catalog of unnecessary “stuff” that can be printed on your hobby printer. Where is the true customization? Where is the needs of the consumer? Where is the “killer” app for 3D printing?

Have no fear. It will come. People are still dreaming of the day when Geordie LeForge asks for a warp drive engine part and it’s miraculously created in the replicator. We, as consumers, will be able to step up to a box, ask for Dora the Explorer shaped ravioli, Siri-style, and get the plate, utensils, and a hot meal from our 3D printed portal. The next couple of years will be interesting as the 3D printing industry tries to break away from prototyping and modeling.

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Jordan has worked in the high-tech industry for 20 years. He has blogged on a variety of topics including computer security, IT software, and his recent endeavor of 3D Printing and additive manufacturing. With his experience, he brings a new view to a quickly developing and emerging market. Follow his blog to see the latest trends and ideas around 3D Printing.

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