It is worth reading the entire article, but I have below excerpted some of the quotes from me with some additional commentary. The piece begins by discussing the news that a company is developing technology for the 3D printing of meat. It goes on:
“One of the major constraints currently and in the future will be the materials used in these devices,” says Dawson. “There are currently a few particular plastics that can be used and we’re beginning to see some metals and metal-plating appearing – but we still don’t have a full spectrum of materials.”
This need not be a significant limitation for the initial phase of 3D printing, where a small selection of resins and plastics will support many initial uses for the household, such as kitchen utensils and simple toys.
“There’s also a certain amount of construction and assembly involved with many items. The various parts may be feasibly printed at home, but they will still require assembly beyond the scope of what the average household could achieve,” Dawson explains. “If you take some recent examples, people point out a working gun that has been manufactured from printed parts. In this case, individual parts were printed, but they still had to be put together correctly. There’s also the case of a 3D printed car – but again, it was only the chassis that was printed, and it required a very large machine.”
This points to a new industry emerging for local assembly of 3D printed parts. This may be particularly relevant in developing countries, but no doubt would also be valueble in developed countries. Your order could be locally printed and assembled in a very short period, rather than shipping being required.
“The other critical constraint is cost-efficiency. Invariably, there will always be items that are more cheaply manufactured and distributed than they could be printed – these items will continue to be sold in stores or online.”
Mass production will almost always be more efficient. There is a balance between convenience and cost, meaning that in a significant proportion of cases manufacturing and supply chains will remain, though possibly with far less compelling financial models than today.
“There is likely to be some sort of intermediary phase in the short term, where we see 3D printers appear in the bricks-and-mortar stores, operating as a service. This is not unlike a newsagent offering print or fax services in the past,” Dawson says. “This is something that will allow local retailers to remain competitive.”
It will be very interesting to track this. Undoubtedly local 3D print shops will be a significant part of the transition. This gives many opportunities for local retailers, especially those with complementary businesses.
“Designs will be a great source of value, but the 3D printer movement has been heavily associated with ‘open source’ already. Free design libraries already exist online, such as Thingiverse, where people can upload and share 3D designs at no cost.”
I have no doubt that open source models will continue to be prominent in 3D printing. At the same time there will definitely be major opportunities for licensed designs.
“The question is: how rapidly will these changes develop? That relies on both the technology and the uptake,” Dawson explains. “The pace of development is pretty phenomenal, but it is still more of a hobbyist’s pursuit in terms of cost and what is possible. But we can imagine that within the next few years we will start to see consumer-ready machines that focus on products and materials that are relatively cost-effective. Certainly within five years I wouldn’t be surprised if we started to see 3D printers becoming commonplace in the home.”
We are on the verge of devices coming into early adopter households and the possibilities being visible to a wide spectrum of society. Progress has been fast for those tracking it, but the 3D printing space is likely to accelerate from here.
Read the full article for more insights as well as some good examples and pics.