I will confess, the 3D Printshow was not just a work-day for me! I am one of the lucky people in that I love my job and 3D printing fascinates me professionally AND personally. Until recently though, it has only been the applications of 3D printing that have me hooked on a personal level — particularly the pretty things — the jewellery, the shoes, the iphone cases, the lamps, the toys and the art. So shoot me!!
Professionally I have always seen my role as a disseminator, using the skills that I do have to share the value of 3D printing with others, originally within an industrial environment, but now also much, much wider.
Consumers! In a 3D printing context this is a hot topic. Consumers are being targeted on a couple of fronts when it comes to 3D printing. First there are all of the new, original, customized products that are available to consumers now — this is a given and it is a fast growing market that I am sure will continue to do so. Second is the PIY (print-it-yourself) movement. That’s to say, purchase a 3D printer and get creative. Currently PIYers are mostly makers and hobbyists and there is heated debate as to when and even if consumers — the man on the street — will engage with 3D printers directly.
I have always been absolutely certain that the first consumer front would happen. Today, it is happening and it will be huge. On the second front I have always been much more reserved about it happening any time soon, still have doubts if I’m honest, but they are doubts — there is no conviction involved. And my doubts were dealt a blow on Friday when I was at the 3D Printshow, because on that day, for the first time I thought I might actually be able to PIM (print-it-myself).
As a technophobe and a person that has regular arguments with my 2D printer, I had resigned myself to the fact that 3D printing would never be a personal activity of mine — believing all the while that it would be for my children, with a notion that a 3D printer would be top of the Christmas list within a few years. A few people have challenged me in the last year or so to just get on and do it. But I have always resisted. However, at the 3D Printshow I questioned myself on this and I have to say my answers were pretty pathetic. With some time and effort this is nowhere near an impossible activity — even for me!! I will never be a designer, the same as most people, but I can find my way around new software and websites and therefore I have access to a huge amount of 3D digital data for consumer products! Now I know there will be kick back here — I am not talking about printing spare parts or anything that requires engineering knowledge. But for toys and knick-knacks, why not? We spend (waste?) millions of pounds on this sort of stuff that, yes ok, has been injection moulded, but 3D printing has a value all of its own that forgives surface finish, I think!
Now, my benchmark for 3D printing being a consumer activity has always been myself. So I kind of took myself aback here. If I am thinking I can do it, then it follows that pretty much anyone can! That said — there are still issues. I know about 3D printing and love it and yet I am still hesitant to try it for myself. That’s a huge barrier when it comes to the general consumer. And then because of my new mindset I was wandering around my house this weekend thinking — hmmm, but where would it go?? I don’t have a shed; my garage is part gym, part laundry room, part dumping ground and it would need a dedicated area. Trivial? Maybe, but it is how consumers will think. Interviewing Deelip Menezes did throw up a possible option — the bedroom!! And that’s before we get to all the technical stuff — which still freaks me out, not to mention materials.
Basically, the way I see it is that my own state of mind on this reflects where the industry currently is with the consumer and PIY — it might happen / it might not. I don’t doubt that it will happen in the future, I’m just still not sure it is going to happen any time soon.