“This post is from our new guest blogger, JF Brandon. He works with Enrico Dini and the DShape. He likes 3D Printing, Naïve Architecture, Open Source, Mass Customization and Hockey. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.”

I’ve seen a lot of videos promising a desktop 3D printer in every home, as ubiquitous as the inkjet. One statement-as-fact I hear is, “Instead of replacing a whole product or appliance, you’ll replace the broken part with a print made by your 3D printer.” Sure, your washing machine is broken. Replace the part. But this is a simplistic way of thinking. There is… so much more.

The Devil is in the Details

I’ll give you an example. My refrigerator has a problem. The plastic bar that holds all the jars of pickles and olives is broken. So, find and print the part right? Fine. I look online, but my fridge is old, probably pre-dates MTV and Thriller and the company does not exist. The chances there are CAD design parts are close to nil. So why don’t I design something? Okay, I take measurements and find I’ll need multiple parts to fit the small desktop printer. I consider materials to use, where to split it, how to join them together… Goodness, this is annoying. And then I think, “Maybe I should just buy a used fridge online for $100.” Wouldn’t that save me time and money?

Timing is everything

We like to think we can fix things if it seems like we can do it. If a lot of parts are irreplaceable, and we can print any part, personal 3D Printing seems a natural fit. Personal 3D printing fulfills the “See-it, love-it, want-it, now-I-have-it” mentality we have – 3D printing is an (almost) instant gratifier. But having a 3D printer also means you want to make things that address the problem. We all know that takes time, effort with a lot of trial and error before we have a final design. All of it takes time, that nobody has, to design and print, or even replicate, anything with the currently available tools.

The Printshop has the Experts

Now, a more likely future of 3D printing is not a 3D printer in every house, but 3D printers, laser cutters and other machinery in shops just down the street. Many people may choose to go to these shops to use 3D printing, but not necessarily for something they have designed. As my example goes, I may simply take the broken part to Jimmy’s 3D Printshop or give him the shattered remnants of my fridgeshelf. He scans the part, stitches it back together on his computer, reprints it and gives me the new part – And I bet Jimmy could do it one day. Hell, he might even reuse the broken part as the recycled, raw material for the print.

Sure, I could buy a nice desktop 3D printer, but do I have the time to leverage it fully? It’s an aspect of the industry really lacking consideration among 3D printing companies. Of course, addressing it is not that easy to do – 3D scanning is still expensive as are high quality 3d prints. The hobby market remains an attractive option because of growing interest and the need for custom parts. This video by nueveojos for the “Labratori de Fabricació” of Barcelona explains the future possibilities of 3D printing and the fab shop perfectly. In all likelihood, useful 3D printing is going to be overwhelmingly shop-based and just down the road.

Image: nueveojos


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.