The 3D printing industry is rapidly becoming known for its futuristic imaging and endless possibilities. It is even compared to ‘magic’ at times since, with 3D printing, it seems you can create anything, anywhere. Once the realm of the specialist, the thought these days is often that we’re heading for ‘an every home should have one’ scenario and that’s not just the manufacturers saying that as part of their efforts to commercialize their products. But we’d suggest that the time for that is not just yet.
The experience of many who have sought to give this idea a try has been disappointment as they found it to be an expensive, limited-use asset. But this ‘broken image’ for some consumers can create a misleading image for the 3D industry as whole, since the possibilities and ramifications still seem to grow on even a daily basis as more and more ideas and uses are unveiled.
To sum up the benefits of 3D printing is to say that virtually anything can be made and this can only affect so many aspects of both our business and personal lives. 3D printing gives us the possibility to never have to buy anything made from certain materials again and this includes metal, plastic, and ceramics. Thus the impact on traditional manufacturing is huge, the impact on the medical world is one of incredible benefits and, for the home and we individuals, we can endlessly personalize objects in terms of measurements and design and so on.
3D printing can dramatically lengthen product life and it offers the ability to create things that could not be created otherwise. It is widely recognized that 3D printing can easily replicate over 80% of the things found in a common household, which brings us back to the ‘home printer’. What is holding ‘us’ back in the broadest sense is that we are limited by the 3D models available and this comes from our understanding and usage of 3D software. This requires specific knowledge, and hiring a mechanical engineer or 3D modeler is as important as the 3D printer itself. Anyone can ‘hit the print button’ but what will be produced needs designing first.
One practical case and a common situation is where a mechanical part, whether it moves or has a support or similar function, has broken. Even though sometimes repairable, the price may be high enough to suggest the option where the ‘least cost’ is total replacement of the whole product. In this case, in could step the 3D printer and produce a low cost – high quality replacement part … but only if there is someone create the model.