What is the future of 3D Printing?

imgresI have been enamored with the idea of 3D printing ever since I ran across the idea on the internet a few years ago. As the idea grew into an industry it became evident that this was something of a phenomenon. The idea of being able to print out a model created in CAD into the real world had taken hold and captured an entire generation of tinkerers. The analoge to the desktop publishing revolution of the early 80’s has been made, but I think this is something that will be very different. The desktop publishing revolution that took place when cheap laser printers hit the scene had one major difference, everyone who was in the industry knew how to type or could learn pretty easily… They had used keyboards and typewriters before to write.  This is not so of CAD software, there is a steep learning curve with 3D printing. Now, I’m not saying that this is insurmountable, but it is definitely very different than using MS Word and an HP LaserJet to print out a book.  So understandably, the options for CAD software have also grown with the rise of 3D printing.  At first, the only options were expensive and technical like AutoCAD.  Now there are many free and easy to use options like SketchUp and even Autodesk has released some entry level options. This is a good indication that the industry understands that the CAD portion of the equation may be the rate limiting step.  Is there another answer? Are the 3D printer makers betting that home grown design is just a short blip on the timeline of 3D printing? With Makerbot’s Thingiverse and other clearing houses of CAD files, is it only a matter of time before the majority of 3D printed objects are purchased from firms that are expert designers? Let’s think about the economy of such a system.  Let’s say I need a new smartphone case, I go online and find a design that I like, I purchase it, then I download and print it out in the color of my choice. I’ve effectively cut out at least 3 middle men in this transaction, most notably the shippers… Also, what happens when I lose or break the case? Can I reprint it? or will I need to buy another copy? These are the questions that will need to be answered before drawing any conclusions about how 3D printing will be used. One thing is true, there will be plenty of money to be made, but only  time will tell who will be making it…

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