Ever since 3D printing was invented, people have been promised the moon. The technology has made it the movies, with crazy machines making crazy stuff at crazy speeds (remember Mission Impossible 5?). But has technology made it to the real world? How effective is it? And when will we get to print kidneys and cockatoos like we were told?
3D printing can seem miraculous, and at times it sounds like complete science fiction. That can make it seem like the technology is glorified a little too much. To really assess how capable 3D printing truly is, we need to walk through each of its facets one by one. So let’s start right away.
Promises of 3D printing
A lot has been said about what a 3D printing machine is capable of doing. They’ve been used to facilitate kidney transplants, which makes them potentially the biggest tool medical science has developed to save human lives after the thermometer. They have been hyped to being the future of shopping where you pay a smaller price for just the code for manufacturing an object, and then let your 3D printer do the rest of the work while working in customizations and modifications as per your requirements. There’s so much more that has been said about them that is is hard to keep track of what is really happening right now, given the rate at which technology has been growing and evolving in the past few years.
The current state of capability of 3D printers
With all that 3D printing promises as a technology, where have things reached in these past 2 years? Things have certainly warmed up and a lot of 3D printer manufacturers are raking in profits. The growing market certainly testifies to merits and net profit in having one of these machines. One can print prototypes, small plastic toys, and implements as well as complex decorations, panels, and more cool stuff. 3D printing has also become an outlet for peoples’ creativity.
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As amazing as that is, there are not enough ways to fulfill those fantasies that went into selling the 3D printing dream. There are a lot of things you can print through a 3D printer, just as long as you’re comfortable with them being plastic. Want something metallic? That’s out of scope for the present 3D printers. Even if you’re looking for a more loose finish, like say for something wearable, 3D printers won’t be able to help you much except maybe design you a plastic brooch or a tie pin.
Problems 3D Printing faces
So does that mean 3D printing has failed? Absolutely not. If you said people could be able to print a switchboard at home a decade ago, people would look at you funny. Now we can actually do it. Nothing about 3D printing spells failure.
That said, there are problems. For starters, 3D printing is still pretty complex. If you cannot sit and code for half an hour, you’re probably not going to find much use of a 3D printer unless you find someone who has coded things already and is ready to share their work with you. Then, not everyone understands the complexities of temperature, extrusion rate and other parameters that need to be adjusted to get the best result. The grade of plastic in the filament is not always clear, nor is the suitability of a filament spool with different machines.
Ray of Hope
Despite the problems the industry faces, there are positive signs that should prevent anyone from writing 3D printing off. Despite the confusion and lack of information on complexities, more and more people are buying 3D printers as well as 3D pens and other such implements. This is one rare instance where curiosity about new technology is driving its sale.
As long as this curiosity can be maintained, there is a window for the industry to design its products in a more consumer-friendly format, invest in easy to understand and exhaustive guides and tutorials and rebrand what needs rebranding.
How long before 3D printing truly arrives? I say it’s right around the corner; it’ll be the next big thing as soon as the industry rolls out changes that are needed.