Keeping up with the 3D printing Industry, or not.




When it comes to 3D printing it’s easy to fall into the trap of simplicity. When I first got involved with this astounding technology, I truly expected to be introduced to machines that looked like little microwaves. Maybe each family could have one in their kitchen alongside their Vitamix and KitchenAid with a phone book filled with fancy codes that you input and then walk away. A quick whirl about, some flashing lights, and then ding…! Your new flashing sneakers are ready. Next up? Grandpa needs a new pancake flipper…!

That day is coming, but I can assure you it won’t be next year. Don’t get me wrong, amazing things are happening every day with 3D printing. I’m currently following the research and development of 3D printing in everything from 3D printing concrete office buildings to 3D printing body parts with stem cells. There are people using 3D printing to create highly customized jewelry and custom insoles for shoes.

The sky seems to be the limit, and there likely isn’t an industry that won’t be impacted by this technology in the next 20 years. Think back to the first personal computer in the ’80s…. Now reach into your pocket and touch your cell phone. That little handheld device is a million times what a personal computer was back then. 3D printing will get there too. For now, be cautious. It’s the Wild West out there and many people are determined to come out on top.

Going back to the 80’s for a minute, let’s recall VHS and Beta and the battle between these two emerging technologies that provided home entertainment through different strategies. Some people bought Beta and an entire section of the old video stores provided videos to play on those machines. But over time, support for this technology vanished. Similarly, the cost of a VHS machine went from thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars in the span of three years. Within five years of its creation, a VHS machine could be bought for $100 instead of $1200 for the first of its kind. Anyone remember what came next? The DVD player! Again expensive at the onset, and now virtually extinct.

With all the hype of 3D printing, we are starting to see industries scramble as they try to stay relevant. 3D printing manufacturers are banging at the door offering their printer as the solution to keep up within our technology driven society. I’m concerned for businesses, school districts, and families possibly feeling pressured to get on the 3D printing train.

It’s not the time to install a 3D printer in every classroom unless you have a teacher who is tech savvy enough to babysit finicky machines. It doesn’t make much sense to invest in a printer prematurely. Not all printers are created equal, and if you don’t do your research you could easily end up with a Beta equivalent without parts and support not far down the road. We are seeing a very dangerous trend where well-intentioned people are buying the wrong printers for the wrong reasons. In the end, it’s hurting the reputation of the technology itself.

If you’re mesmerized by the possibilities of 3D printing, there are simpler and more meaningful ways to access this technology. For example, start with figuring out how to make a program for what you’d like to print. Free programs like Tinkercad.com and others by Autodesk are available to anyone wanting to design. Then, once you have a 3D file you’d like to print, consider options like Shapeways.com or 3Dhubs.com for the actual printing of your items. These systems have experienced people who will print your items for you at a reasonable cost. While it certainly feels less glamorous than printing at home, it costs less and produces a higher quality product. These printers are finicky and it takes a lot of time in pre and post-production to create high functioning pieces.

If you’re a technology driven person and you love the idea of 3D printing, please contact 3DTechpeople.ca about a Tinker Club starting up this fall.

After all, some of us are just determined to tinker!