Could Everyone Have a 3D Printer in the Future?
These days, everyone must have heard something about 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing). This technology is generally considered to be one of the scientific breakthroughs of the 21st century, although it was initially invented in the 1980s. A 3D printer is really a kind of industrial robot. Reports of these devices started popping up in the news a few years ago. The news items tended to be reports on 3D model objects, printed parts, medical aids, and even whole houses printed in 3D. Nowadays, it is indisputable that this technology is expanding rapidly and making great advances in medicine and certain manufacturing processes. There have been predictions of at least one 3D printer in every household of the future, but in reality it is too early to make those sort of claims.
One reason that 3D printers are unlikely to become as popular as regular ones is that a great variety of companies manufacture them. All of this competition could have a negative impact on sales, for example in generating interest in the average consumer or lay person. Someone who is not familiar with 3D printers and all of their arcane terminology (terms like “heating bed”, “extruders” and “hot nozzle”) is likely to be completely baffled by this when doing the research with a view to buying. The average layperson will probably also get tired of reading the interminable reviews and they may well reconsider buying one.
Another factor is the price. Most of the good 3D printers cost a lot of money (they generally start at around $1,000), which will put them out of the reach of most ordinary people. Fortunately, it is not necessary to buy one, in any case: if you just type “3D printing service” into Google, you will get a list of websites where you can find a 3D model and order prints(a particularly good one is 3D Hubs.)
Once the big printer businesses like HP join in the manufacturing frenzy, they will doubtless help to spread this technology everywhere. However, one of the main pertinent questions is how these devices can be of use to most ordinary people. They could certainly be exploited for artistic purposes, as in the manufacture of sculptures, but it is hard to see how else they are applicable to everyday life. They would not necessarily have many applications, apart from being a real breakthrough in the medical field, and particularly in bioprinting. It is an unlikely scenario that everyone will be able to just print a new ear or other body part at home (and it is unnecessary in any case, since there are hospitals and clinics to fulfil this function).
You have also possibly heard of 3D food printers which certainly seem like something out of a sci-fi film, but are a reality (although they are not at the stage of being able to make a whole meal for us, as yet). These types of printers have been touted as the 21st century’s answer to the microwave oven. However, when you examine current 3D printer models, it does not seem at all likely that they will ever replace the age-old process of cooking.
So it seems that although 3D printing may really be the technology of the future, especially in the field of medicine and prosthetics, they are probably not going to be a standard item in everyone’s home, alongside a PC.
Picture courtesy of www.metlabs.com