Beth, while this is interesting, it would be more interesting to see what is being done by people investing in this technology to make real products. I see a lot of these "community" projects announced with much fanfare. On the other hand, not much comes out of it that will drive the economy. In the past there was lots of talk about hackerspaces or makerspaces driving innovation in the mechanical engineering area. They still exist, but are havens for people to learn, they don't really drive new business. So, it will be interesting to see what comes out of this new effort.
Good point, TJ. As you can see at the end of the post, the retail type movement (a la the Apple storefront concept) is just starting to happen with 3D printing as well. I remember when Apple announced they were going to put stores in malls. As a long-time journalist covering information technology, I thought they were crazy. Who's going to buy a PC or printer in a mall. Well, who's laughing now. I think with the right type of company, the right type of technology (that goes without saying) and the right type of marketing muscle, the retail exposure to 3D print technology might be an important catalyst to help it take off.
I agree, I think this will help the technology overall take off. Remember when you could go rent computers and all kinds of printing and art services at chains like Alphagraphics? They sprang up like mushrooms, until many more people bought computers, and then many of those chains faded away. They're still out there, but in much lower numbers, and usually combined with office products stores or UPS and alternative shipping service depots.
Overall I like the idea of 3D printing becoming more and more available to everyone and believe there will be an initial demand for these services. While some of this will be temporary demand for the novelty of this new process, I also think new markets will emerge from this option.
The service bureaus and services offered at the retail shops will target the initial enthusiasts and whet their whistle for more capabilities. The folks who are serious about 3D printing will invest in one for home or avail themselves of services like the Shapeways manufacturing facility which is more about producing product in bulk, not one-off printing.
It seems that an eventual benefit of 3D print would be reductions in inventory of products. As an example, couldn't a retailer eliminate certain products from inventory and only produce them as needed? But is it concevable that one day you would go to a Walmart and needing a dozen plastic spoons, forks and knives; just push a button and they would be manufactured while you stood there?
Beth, actually IBM did it in the 1980s. We bought our first PC for the home there. My wife and I worked for a large company that had a good discount with IBM for corporate purchases and they also negotiated a 25% discount at the store for employees.
These things go in waves. Branding is everything. Apple is very successful with its stores. When they got into it they had products that were new and unique. As ultrabooks and Android (and Windows 8) tablets start competing this may well change. That is the most likely the type of thing that happened with IBM and the clones. IBMs products were of much higher quality than most of the clones (with the exception of Compaq), but the price was high. So, we will see.
Most of the new 3D printers and 3D printing technologies in this crop are breaking some boundaries, whether it's build volume-per-dollar ratios, multimaterials printing techniques, or new materials types.
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