The Cart Before the 3D Printed Horse
If you follow the progress of innovation throughout history you’ll see spikes during times of unrest. Innovation tends to occur out of necessity and necessity truly is the mother of all invention. 3D printing is the exception; it’s a cart before the horse scenario. We’ve all heard the hype on how it’s going to change the world. The reality is that it’s the solution to the problem we do not know we have.
For the most part the industry’s missing the mark. Last year this was clear when I attended a 3D manufacturing trade show. While there was no lack of companies selling printers, the examples used to showcase their capabilities was laughable. There is a major disconnect when you look at a table of plastic figurines and try to imagine how they could impact your life.
“I’m so sick of reading the hype, Like, ‘we can press a button and make anything.’ Yes, that is the future and it’s coming, but right now it’s complicated. Not every 3D printer can generate every material. Some guy in his garage is not going to be able to print Titanium. I don’t want to be a naysayer, but these are grandiose notions we should keep at bay,” warns Tim Shinbara, technology director at the Association of Manufacturing Technology in McLean, Virginia.
So here we are, promised a bigger and better future via 3D printing, but all the average person sees are pointless trinkets. Rest assured there is promise on the horizon. Recently we’ve seen companies transform this technology from making needless junk, to mass-producing meaningful, intelligent products. They share one common characteristic, personalization. These companies are manufacturing products tailored to you, in a level that was unimaginable before.
Sols has created a smart phone app that allows their clients to make 3D models of their feet. Custom insoles are then 3D printed to match the specific shape and contours of the customer. This workflow has streamlined the process of custom insoles immensely, dropping the cost by hundreds of dollars. This is a prime example on how a finely tuned workflow is the key factor when bringing this technology to market.
Invisalign is the modern-day adaptation of braces. The patient has a mold of their teeth scanned and a series of corrective mouthpieces are 3D printed out of clear plastic that is nearly undetectable when worn. While comparable to the cost of braces Invisalign offers many other benefits. As they seem far superior it’s conceivable that these may replace traditional braces as they continue to catch on.
These companies are paving the road on bringing 3D printing to the masses. They offer innovative products and have implemented workflows that are practical for your average person.
The reality is the world is not going to change overnight, and the biggest hurdle to 3D printing is creating a market. This will happen in due time and when it does come to fruition it will change how we manufacturer. Our world will consist of products far superior to what we have now. Products crafted specifically for us, almost reminiscent of the way a craftsman would create something for a client a century ago.