The future of 3D Printing Technology: Will everyone have one at home?
When Alexander Graham Bell (and Antonio Meucci) invented the telephone, no one could have foreseen the depth of how it would change the world. Similarly, when Percy Spencer created the microwave oven, no one was thinking “soon, there will be one of these in every home”. Well, with the advent of 3D printer technology, it seems as though we might be on the cusp of an entirely new revolution in consumerism and product delivery.
For those that don’t know what a 3D printer is, it is essentially a device that can build 3 dimensional objects out of certain base materials. In short, this means that you could basically use such a device to create whatever you like. Additionally, there are two main ways that 3D printers can work; either through an additive process or a subtractive one. Simply put, “additive” merely implies that the printer builds something from the ground up using some source material to put it together piece by piece. Conversely, the “subtractive” method means that you start off with a solid piece of something and the 3D printer chips away at it until the desired item is left (similar to how sculptures are made).
So, how will this technology change the world, you ask? Imagine that the average person no longer needs to go out to buy products like we have in the past. Perhaps we all purchase some range of base materials like metals or minerals, for example, and use our 3D printers to simply “create” what we want. In other words, we might find ourselves buying our “products” in the form of blueprints which can later be used by our 3D printers to construct them. For example, if we’re talking about printing out more complex machines, you would buy a blueprint that contained a number of individual pieces which could then be put together later.
However, in order to bring this technology to the average consumer, we’ll need to be able to increase the speed with which these printers operate. Currently, 3D printing is a fairly slow process, but new developments are in the works which will hopefully speed things up considerably. For instance, newer types of 3D printers with multiple extruder heads are being created, which will certainly increase the speed of these machines as well as the process, accuracy and overall potential they possess.
Additionally, there are a number of companies springing up all over which allow users to upload their designs and have them printed out by specialists at stores / facilities. One of the most instantly recognizable examples of this would be Staples Incorporated, which are known for selling office supplies. The question is, will we see 3D printing technology mostly being used by companies to present services to the public, or will it become more of a home-based technology that everyone will participate in? Perhaps the most likely outcome is that we’ll see both avenues explored (business services and home printing), with specific benefits being associated with each one.