Is 3D printing really going mainstream? If you ask HP this week the answer is that it certainly is. It plans to release its first commercial line of 3D printers as early as June this year, according to industry rumours.
There were some durability and reliability issues with substrates that lead to instability of the printed product from prototypes but these have now been resolved, according to HP, which will make a major announcement any day now.
There is still a lot of hype around 3D printing and the arguments are raging about toy or tool, real purpose or just a designer’s amusing thing. Of course the imaginative side of me says ‘buy one, print one free’ but of course the devices are more complex than that. We have all had those plastic printer paper trays break and we will be able to print a new one of those soon.
However, there are some real world uses for 3D printing and no doubt as the tools become a widely available reality, and the price point comes down even further than it already has (from around $30,000 to $3000), and as the materials that can be used for printing improve there will be new uses we have not thought of yet.
Today, designers are using 3D printers for prototypes and samples. Plastic parts for devices can be downloaded as files and printed. Covers for electrical components can be printed locally on demand, leading to faster fabrication and faster problem-solving. I am sure there is a market for printing toys and 3D puzzles.
If the whole world already knew what to do with a 3D printer one could argue that they have a very limited use. Of course, people have imagination and ideas will emerge that we did not have yesterday and 3D printing will generate billions of dollars of business for the industry.
It will be interesting to see how far HP takes this technology and what materials it will offer tools for printing with and what scale of printer is developed.
Please share your imaginative ideas for what could be or should be done with 3D printers here.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that is known for solving business problems with IT. How can we help?