I don't think 3D printers will ever become as ubiquitous as their 2D counterparts unless they start to be totally "hands-free" as it were -- like if it looked like a microwave oven -- and you placed a part you want to replicate inside and press the "Scan/Copy" button -- then you take that part out, close th edoor, and press the "Print" button.
When it comes to 3D printing at home, this is really useful technology when it comes to replacement items you can't get for existing products -- and also for one-of-a-kind items you want for your own projects.
As a replacement for a Mattel Thingmaker or Vac-u-form, 3D printers are very impressive. More seriously, they are great for making 3D models and replacing missing game pieces.
However, when I need replacement parts it's generally because the old part has worn out or has started to leak. So it's unlikely that the materials available for current 3D printers are going to be robust enough for something that gets a lot of wear (like a car part or a cane tip or a shoe sole) or have the right sealing properies for plumbing parts.
They also don't provide a good solution for making single-quantity PCBs for projects with high-density SMT components. And we're pretty far from having a 3-D printer generate custom integrated circuits.
But we're still in the early stages of the technology.
Regular printers are cheap and pretty good but many people still use "service bureaus" such as Costco, the local drugstore, and on-line to print photos, and, especially, unusual photo products such as large prints, mugs, canvas prints, metal prints, puzzles, etc.
I'd say a closer match to 3-D printer are photo printers (especially the large ones from Canon, Epson, & HP). How many people have them? Only the dedicated photo enthusiasts. It's similar to other hobbies: how many people own Proxxon rotary tools?
I think it'll be similar with 3-D printing: only the dedicated makers will have 3-D printers, but there will be a lot of room for service companies making customizable stuff using higher end 3D printers.
Hopefully, the maker market will be large enough to breed innovation and competition -- the market for high end cameras (bascially, all DSLRs and M-ILCs) and photo printers is big enough, and the cost isn't too far off from what a decent 3D printer will probably cost (in the $1000's, not the $100's).
I agree with Tony...there will be some 3-D printer shops and services...but very few people will own them...what for? I fail to see ANY mass market consumer applications of this over-hyphed technology...Kris
That is an interesting take on it. How do you see such a workflow developing, and at what stage does the person scan the components? If it is after they have broke, it would take some real smarts behind the device to make such a system to work. It is an interesting thought.
You get to the heart of the issue. These devices neet to either have a dramatic drop in cost to be making such items, or a great increase in versitility to achieve a level of usefulness to the average consumer.
You make an interesting parallel. In a way, if these devices do not become too popular, they may be able to skirt under some of the legal challenges that could present themselves in the future as there is not enough money in it for the big companies to go after that income stream.
I too agree that there is a lot of hype, but then again, there are a few companies that have been able to hype products so much that people end up purchasing them without ever having a real productive need for them. Is this the path that 3D printing is on? I do not think so, I not sure that there is much to draw people down a path like that. Then again, if Apple got into the industry, anything could happen ;)
"I'd say a closer match to 3-D printer are photo printers (especially the large ones from Canon, Epson, & HP). How many people have them? Only the dedicated photo enthusiasts."
This is an excellent analogy. Photo printers have reached a low enough price and ease of use point for them to be ubiquitous. Everyone has or could have the capability to print their own high quality photos at home on real photo paper, but I suspect only a minority actually does so.
And just as with photo printing, 3D printing may become more commonly associated -- for most consumers -- with a service provided by the local drugstore or big box retailer. Upload your files, then come to the store tomorrow to pick up your objects.
Yes, most people can own them but very few do...there is just too much hassle in making sure it works (tonner, connectivity etc)...I use 10 years old laser printer (not 3D of course) which works great except it doesn't connect to anything I have at home with the exception of one old PC...this is how industry is forcing printer upgrades...maybe they will attempt to do the same with 3D? "we only have 3D models in stock sir" ;-)...Kris