Remember 3D Printers? Those curious cubes that were poised to take the planet by storm with promises of a printer in every home? Turns out that didn’t happen - but after going to this year’s TCT show, I learnt where the real future of this industry lies.
In three words: convenience, not hardware.
I spoke to hundreds of experts on the conference floor, asking the question in the title. And to sum up all the answers in one short soundbite, nobody knows. But it’s clear they don’t believe it to be in the consumer space.
The future lies out of consumers' hands
You see, while the idea of a 3D printer in every living room sounds futuristic, it will be nothing more than a gimmick to the general consumer. Most people will print one pot and be done with it - a waste of at least £800 plus paying through the nose for cartridges.
The Makerbot team seem to agree, as they’ve openly changed their focus to “business customers,” with their brand new scanning hardware and printing.
The future lies in the evolution of manufacturing
Sander Adam from LeapFrog even posed an idea for Ikea to print extra screws for their flat pack furniture, instead of holding a warehouse-size database of every screw that quickly goes out of date with the changing seasons of product.
And as I saw with WASP, this manufacturing could be brought to improve the third world, as they work to 3D print new housing for those less well off. It’s incredible work that you have to see to believe.
The future lies in transportation
While Voltrax may only have been able to create a conceptual design of a motorbike using 3D printed parts, and they say the future lies only in the design phase - it’s not too far fetched to see a future of 3D printing vehicles.
Imagine catered designs to each person, where you don’t have to fit your lifestyle a stock car shape, but the manufacturers can change its car to fit you. That seems like an exciting future.
The future lies in enhancing industry
Thinking optimistically, pretty much every industry could be enhanced using 3D printing. As Formlabs demonstrated on their stand, using human-friendly materials, they had moved into a dental space with mouth guards and false teeth.
Beyond that, they brought musical instruments to the everyday consumer with their 3D printed violin, proving the options are endless. Implementing this technology into the business infrastructure could simplify and even speed up the production chain.
So what does that mean?
Pretty simple really - we were all wrong to think 3D printing was going to be a “thing.” Don’t expect to buy one for your computer desk anytime soon, unless you have express plans or expertise in CAD design.
But that being said, 3D printing has an exciting future in areas where you won’t even notice it happening - making your world that little bit more convenient day-to-day.