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We came across an interesting article by DesignNews about 3D printing and what’s next now that the hype is starting to fade.

As materials are able to produce better parts that function closer to or better than alternate methods we think that 3D printing could be the next “explosion”. That explosion probably won’t be in the number of crazy materials we can think up but in the properties of that material that make it useful. Sure, printing in chocolate is interesting but does a chocolate bar that takes an hour to print really going to catch on?

Over the years, 3D printing seems to have become this magical process where it sounds like anyone can print anything they want at home which means they won’t have to buy things anymore. Printers do allow us to make shapes we never could with conventional processes but the truth is, 3D printed parts can be (1) expensive compared to a mass produced counterpart, (2) less durable/functional than a molded part, and (3) time consuming to produce. The parts also require design and development just like any other product so not just anyone can think up a product and “viola” a part pops out. 

The article talks about how the reality of printing is becoming better understood. You don’t see a lot of 3D printed products sold on the market. But maybe that’s not the end goal. It makes us wonder what’s most important about 3D printing. Is it the way it looks, the way it feels, or the way it works? To us, function and opportunities are the key advantages to 3D printing.

Can a 3D printed part work just like a mass produced part? If so that’s super helpful in designing new products since you can test a design before investing in a mass produced version. But, with that process, the 3D printer is abandoned in the end. Once 3D printers can produce parts at a comparable cost, with good enough speed, and in materials that work as good or better than what we currently have on the market, we’re sure we’ll see some major changes. Printing also opens the doors to new designs that are not possible by traditional manufacturing methods. Once printing becomes more ubiquitous who knows how our products will change.

Article Quotes:

  • Cathy Lewis: “We need to balance our excitement about the types of material available with the needs of the specific application.”
  • Melanie Lang: “One of the biggest misconceptions about 3D printing is that you push a button and the part comes out,” said Lang. “You might have to remove it off a build plate and do machine work on it.”