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.

Hello 3D Printing World

Jordan here. A quick introduction to the blog. This blog is dedicated to those who are interested in 3D Printing. Whether you are already familiar with this amazing technology or discovering some of the potentials, you’ll find interesting information that will help you along the way.

And now, allow me to introduce myself. I am fascinated with the art/technology of 3D printing. This technology has the amazing potential to change all of our lives. Imagine a world that products are created in front of your eyes. Simple order it and “poof”, it’s there! Sounds a lot like Star Trek you say? Well, it is.  But for those old enough, think back to the days of early computers. When you unwrapped your Apple IIe or Commodore 64, did you imagine that something extremely more powerful and useful would end up in your pocket? Did you really know what that computer would do for you when you bought it? I figured it would help with math homework (large calculator), play games, and maybe type up a document. Initially I was right. But the imagination of others along with new and exciting applications created a new world for us.  We now have completely new forms of communication and artificial intelligence. Have you imagined a world without computers lately?

3D Printing has been around for 20 years, believe it or not. So why are we talking about this “old” technology? The past couple of years has seen an amazing transformation of 3D printing technology. Now hobby printers are more prevalent and affordable. You can go to Thingaverse.com, download a design, and print it on your 3D printer that costs less than my first computer.

Why is this significant? Well, let’s talk about printers. I just purchased an HP full color, duplexing, networked printer that I can use to print from my iPhone. Something you don’t think about much because it works. In the early days, printers were for those businesses who could afford the slow dot-matrix generation. Remember having a continuous feed of paper and having to rip off the edges? What made printers useful to consumers was word processing like WordPerfect, MS Word and others. Also remember “The Print Shop” that created banners and greeting cards? Now we have large format printers in the office that print in full color, sort, staple, email, scan, fax, and a myriad of other useful functions that spit out reams of paper.

3D Printing is in the early stages. Only those who can run 3D designer applications can get their full use. The next generation of 3D Printers will have ways to design your needs that will be simple and easy to use. Think of Captain Picard walking up to the small portal and asking for a cup of tea. This isn’t science fiction anymore, it just takes someone with an engineering degree, a couple of hours, and only creates the teacup. The rest is quickly coming in the future.

So who am I? Who is Fifthwater? We are more than enthusiasts. We believe in the future of 3D Printing. Welcome to the cutting edge of technology.