When I wrote ‘2012 – the year of 3D Printing?‘, I didn’t realise it would quickly become one of my most popular ever posts, get masses of great comments and end up featured on other sites including the Wall Street Journal. But that was back in August,2011, so how are my predictions fairing up now we’re approaching halfway through 2012?
Well, I’d say pretty good – it’s still going to be a while before we see a 3D printer in every home, but the capabilities to make use of them have already arrived, and the hardware itself is getting cheaper. Plus we’re seeing new applications for the technology every week, covering all levels of interest from building hobby parts in your home to creating human veins and body parts for healthcare and industrial applications.
No need to design – Scanning tech revolution:
One of the main problems with the concept of 3D Printing on a consumer level is that not everyone is skilled and able to access 3D design software when they need to make something. On a technology level, smaller scanning technology is starting to really move forward, for instance Matterports new, smaller 3D scanner. But even more important could be the new 3D Printing App for the iPad – 123D Catch.
That’s right – you can fully scan any real world object with your iPad and use that captured image to output via a 3D printer. It’s from Autodesk, and allows you to capture and store the design online to then be printed out, or you could send it to a service like Shapeways to print it for you. And the app itself is free!
That means everyone who owns an iPad now owns a full 3D scanning tool which might not be suitable for the most intensive applications, but gives every single person a way to try it.
3D Printing hardware falling in price:
I previously covered the likes of MakerBot, which come in at under $2000. But now we’re seeing the likes of RepRap ‘free’ 3D Printer community project, the Kickstarter-project Printrbot which comes in at $549, and now Solidoodle, which combines the worst name of the bunch with a $499 starting price.
That means it’s getting to the same level as an iPad, and for under £1000 you could have the iPad, 3D capture app and 3D printer all set-up and ready to go (Some tweaking and set-up necessary). Under £500 comes into geek impulse buy territory, and also means that you can pay off your investment in a reasonable amount of time without becoming a rapid prototyping company.
3D Printing innovation is almost endless:
Just look at a quick sample of the 3D printing news and business that I’ve spotted and saved in the last few months:
- 3D Printing custom-designed limbs for amputees – how awesome is this?
- 3D Printer designed for drugs – the implications for drug patents and availability are pretty interesting.
- 3D Chocolate Printer on sale now – it’s £749, but surely every chocolate shop and chocolatier must be worried?
- MIT are working on printable robots! – Further off, but in around 5 years we should be able to print our own small robots as required. MIT already have working version in their own labs.
- Smithsonian Museum uses 3D Printing to replicate collection – Obvious but incredibly useful given how many objects could now be displayed and touched, rather than being hidden away.
- 3D printed jaw transplant – 3D printed body parts are not only being created – they’re now being used in real operations to improve lives.
- The Pirate Bay introduces Physibles – Whatever you think of The Pirate Bay, there’s no denying they’ve got as good a handle on new technology as anyone, and have access to a lot of data on what people might want. So introducing swappable 3D Printing files shows how important it’s getting.
- Already people are starting to travel with 3D Printing solutions in cars, allowing them to reach any community which might have a project for them.
Here are the MIT printable robots in action:
3D Printing – is 2012 realistic?
I was intentionally a little bit vague when I claimed 2012 would be the year of 3D printing, because I didn’t define exactly what that meant. Would it mean everyone knows what is it? Or owns a 3D printer of their own? Or has one on their Christmas list?
In my mind it was the year the phrase became as understood and accepted as ‘the internet’, ‘iPhone’ or ‘iPad’. And I see no reason yet to become any less optimistic that will be the case by the end of the year – it’s already happened in technology circles, and with the range and scope of innovation, there’s a good chance one or two breakout ideas will have occurred by the time December rolls around – indeed the coverage above includes mainstream publications such as the BBC, so this really isn’t a niche idea anymore.
The question is really how soon you and your business might start actively using 3D Printing, rather than talking about it. And I suspect it won’t be long unless you want to be left behind…