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.
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.
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?
@PrintGuyInk: Definitely agree with your scenario. I think as the costs of these printers come down and the functionality gets better and cleaner, you will definitely see them set up in stores to produce certain types of goods on a mass customization, not mass production, basis.
For the monment, I think we are all deluding ourselves for the one simple reason that printing something at a resolution that compares with an injection molded or machined part takes a very very long time.
I've had stuff done on a $60,000 Dimension 3D printer that while great for demonstrating a concept was no where near the quality of a milled part.
I recently had a job quoted and milling was cheaper.
The finer the resolution needed, the slower the printing becomes, where as with traditional milling you just change tools to do course or fine bits.
Don't get me wrong, this technology definitely has its place but until we have intantaneous replicator technology ala Startrek, a 50c part out of an injection molding die in 5 seconds will trump a $5 printed part in 1 hour out of a 3D printer. Basically we have production = (conventional + inventory) and prototype = (maybe 3D)
I've been watching the advances in 3-D printing for about 20 years. Although there will likely be a time it's used for mass production, it was originally, and still is for the most part, considered a means for rapid prototyping. One of the first solid object modeling units I saw was using a sort of paper and layered at around .003", the 'model' was the USS Enterprise starship. At the Machine tool show, next to the 'paper' unit was a polymer liquid/laser curing machine with about 10x10x8" capacity. This was in about 1994, even then resolution was quite good at about .002".
Pretty impressive even then, and there never was meant to be a comparison to milling or other types of machining.
What they need to do i make a 3d printer that can print molds for rapid production. Could they use a welding gun, layering the metal like the plastic is layered, to produce molds for rotational molding or plastic injection molds? would that make it more feasible?
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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