In an article earlier this year featured on TechCrunch, Down the Hype Cycle: A 3D Printer In Every Home?,” Filemon Schoffer takes a look at the reality of 3D printing. He writes, “The ability to design and manufacture a physical object at home within hours, while bypassing traditional manufacturing supply chains, is certainly a powerful notion.”
But as Schoffer points out, 3D printing in every home doesn’t make sense—at least not yet. The benefits are mostly realized in product development by companies looking to create prototypes and even production parts.
THE HYPE CYCLE
Last year, Gartner’s 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Report placed consumer 3D printing on the downward slope of “Peak of Inflated Expectations” into the “Trough of Disillusionment,” while enterprise 3D printing is moving upward through “Slope of Enlightenment” into the “Plateau of Productivity.” Wide interest in consumer market for 3D printing is waning, but professional applications are growing and flourishing.
The Gartner results represent the everyday activity of a host of innovative companies. Companies like FATHOM, which enhances and accelerates a company’s product development process by leveraging 3D printing and additive manufacturing. From creating prototypes to production-ready parts, many additive applications have proven their value, while research departments continue to find new profit centers for 3D printing (check out the blog series “Change Is Additive” for recent industry examples).
The uses are transforming manufacturing as we know it. Companies are integrating 3D printed tools into the injection molding process, saving thousands of dollars and countless hours. As Gartner puts it, mainstream adoption of professional 3D printing services is taking off: “Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off” (source).
As additive technologies become more widely used in 2016, we asked a few of our customer support team engineers what they look forward to most about the future of 3D printing.
Jess Degnan, Lead Support Engineer—I really like the Autodesk Dreamcatcher project, a goal-directed design system that enables designers and engineers to input specific design objectives such as functional requirements, material type, manufacturability, performance criteria, and cost restrictions. Using a 3D printing technology as a variable allows the software to render designs that traditional manufacturing would have never allowed, nor designs that human would never conceptualize. I think we’re going to see a lot of cool and unique new products come out thanks to this research release.
Randall Oglesby, Support Engineer—I look forward to having more ways to obtain useful files ready to go for 3D printing for both the consumer and enterprise markets. I think a major hurdle in getting people at the consumer level to use these machines in their homes is available content. Most people are limited to what they can find on sites like Thingiverse and other similar sites. Very few people in the consumer market have the software and capabilities to design their own replacement parts let alone the creativity to design aesthetically pleasing household items. As the adoption rate picks up, maybe will start seeing places like Macy’s and Target selling STL’s on their websites for people to download and 3D print at home. This leaves the design to the professionals and the manufacturing to the customers. As major retailers adopt these practices, I think at-home material types will start to expand as well, furthering the number of applications for items 3D printed at home.
Ivan Ferguson, Support Engineer & Prototype Technician—I look forward to the development of new methods for additive manufacturing and along with that, a greater variety of material types to use. I thought that Schoffer brought up some interesting concepts of 3D printing such as ingredients to craft nutritious meals or 3D printing temporary parts that could be recyclable or broken down using the same machine. That notion of reusability resonated with me and I hope that is possible in the near future.
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