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Can 3D Printers Catch On With Consumers?

This question originally appeared on CoFoundersLab: Were 3D printers a bust for consumers?

Answer from Scott McGregor, CEO, Tridimensional Innovations


The problem 3D printing faced is the hype cycle. To explain what 3D printing was going to be like, someone started talking about the Star Trek Replicator. That sounded like something every consumer would want. But, really, people don't want any device, they want an experience. And the experience people associated with the Star Trek Replicator is that you come up to it, say what you want, wait two seconds, and out it comes (and the user doesn't need to know anything).


Because Star Trek is on TV, there's always a Replicator just large enough to make the thing they need in the episode, and it is always conveniently located in just the right place in the show. Now, someone says a 3D printer is like a replicator because it can make anything.


Well, theoretically 3D printers can do that, but, in reality, there are different printing technologies for different materials, So, you can't get by with just one machine; you need several, and in different sizes.


But, unlike in Star Trek, you need to dedicate space in your house for all of 3D printing machines. Also, instead of just saying what you want and having it come out, 3D printing requires that you actually program and control the 3D printer. And prints could take hours.


The thing is: A home machine shop could probably make whatever you want too. But it still won't be just a few seconds, and there will be a lot to learn and master. If that isn't your passion, then it is so much easier to use a service bureau.


The questions that people should ask themselves about home 3D printing are the following:


  1. How often would I want to use this SPECIFIC piece of equipment (keep in mind the size and materials it works with).

  2. How much space does it occupy, and, given my expected frequency of use, where would I put it? Would it be constantly ready for use where I put it? Or would it mostly be stored away and require set-up to use and then put away?

  3. How many different materials will I want to use? How much space will that take? What will my inventory cost be for all the materials that I might want to readily have on hand?

  4. How much set-up and clean-up does it require per job?

  5. How frequently does it fail? Need repair? How much maintenance does it take?

  6. How much time does it take to learn how to operate it (including learning how to design what you are printing)? How much time to MASTER it?

  7. How much joy will you get out of "doing it yourself?”

  8. What is the relative cost (time, money, inconvenience) of the alternatives of:
    1. Renting just the model of printer you need for the jobs you choose to do?
    2. Outsourcing the 3D printing to a service bureau and having the finished product delivered to your home or office?
    3. Buying a standardized product?

If you do this with other products, you can see why only hobbyists stick with 3D printing and everyone doesn't have one, or use one regularly.

 

Were 3D printers a bust for consumers? originally appeared on CoFoundersLab — the place to connect, meet, and collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs.

 

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