When we speak of 2D Printing, we mean the old fashioned way of printing documents….offset printing, copy machines, and desktop printing. When we speak of 3D Printing, we refer to additive manufacturing, a process that turns a blue print into a product.
It’s important to point out that while many aren’t familiar with 3D Printing, the industry itself is 32 years old. So these predictions aren’t about “what might happen,” they are more about “what is happening and will it change?”
When I was commissioned to write this piece, my belief was that the publisher wanted to see if 3D Printing will head to the desktop the way 2D printing has….it’s hard to find an office (even a home office) without a copy machine. The advent of “all in one machines” which include scanner, fax machines, copy machines and printers have enormous convenience. Additionally, one can find an all in one machine that costs less than $100.
So will 3D Printing head that way?
Yes and no and maybe and sometimes. 3D Printing adoption differs from 2D Printing in the following ways:
1) The internet. When 2D printing evolved there was no internet. And since there was no internet, there were no internet marketplaces. With 3D Printing, one can buy printers, 3D designs or time on someone else’s machine, witch are called:
2) Service Bureaus. These are 3rd party 3D Printing services which will print objects for you. Many of them also offer design consulting and materials consulting (materials- what substance is used to make the 3D Printed object).
The combination of these 2 forces changes the game in the 3D Printing world. In the old 2D days, we used outside services for printing. But usually someone had to walk into a shop and interact with someone. Only later did print shops have internet access and create online stores for their customers. The internet does something else…it creates a forum for rapid, worldwide story telling about 3D printing and has attracts audiences eager to learn about the latest developments. One such forum is http://3dprintingchannel.com
Today, someone with a 3D Printing project can walk into a shop -there are many out there and UPS, Staples, Home Depot and others are getting in the game. Alternatively, someone could take that same project and look online for someone to print for them, just by uploading a CAD drawing.
3) As the industry matures, so does the ease of technology. Creating CAD designs was the domain of trained engineers, back in the day. Today, an 8 year old can create a design, and there are many Apps that will do it for you with almost no effort.
Many of us are walking around with scanning technology that can be used to render 3D Printing CAD drawings…the technology can and will be embedded in smartphones.
4) Entry costs. A 3D Printer can cost millions of dollars (machines that print airplane wings, or print from human tissue) or less than $100 – kind of a modified glue gun. But at $100 I can put this technology into my 11 year old’s hands and let her experiment. Is a $100 3D Printer the coolest Christmas present yet?
5) Medical. No technology has the ability to save and help as many lives as 3D Printing. With human tissue engineering, we can print body parts (see http://bioprintingworld.com) that can be the difference between life and death, or the difference between life without an arm and life with one. This phenomenon alone forces one to bet on the technology.
6) Borderless. Instead of shipping an item in a box, one can send a CAD drawing and print where the user is. That means if someone in Ukraine needed a tractor part, they could get the blueprint of that part online, and it would make no difference that someone from Brooklyn uploaded that design. This forces the rapid adoption of this technology.
7) Big Data. 3D Printing can done in an online environment. Drawings can be purchased in that environment. 3D Printed products and services are bought and sold virtually. That means that a great many of Big Data firm track these transactions. Then they analyze, repackage and resell the data that is being produced. Compare this to taking a photo and copying it on a Xerox machine! Hence there are Big Data firms interested in furthering this industry!
These 7 factors (and many others too numerous to list here) mean the rapid adoption of 3D printing…much faster than 2D printing, and much more meaningful.