Print Shops or at Home? Probably Both.
Written by Justin R. Shook on July 23, 2015.
Where will the 3D printers be in 5, 10, and 20 years? I used to tell people that some form of an additive manufacturing machine will be in almost every US household in 10 years. Since then, I've grown slightly wiser and I've learned not to make predictions. As of right now, the market is shaping up into two different areas for customers to obtain 3D printed models. The first area is from professional printing services (like ShookIdeas!). The second area is from consumers purchasing 3D printers themselves and learning the workflow to design/download files, translate them into machine code, and then print. Let's talk about the two different areas.
I bought my first consumer 3D printer, a variant of the Prusa i2, in 2012 from Lulzbot. After thousands of hours of designing, printing, failing prints, and fixing my machine, I'm still in love with the technology. Since then I've invested in other printers, but I still continue to battle with failed prints and broken machines. I recently bought an Ultimaker 2 Extended only to have to ship it back to factory in less than 30 days of use. With these experiences, I'm now convinced that the most popular and relatively inexpensive 3D printer technology, Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), will not win the hearts and wallets of the majority of the non-technical public. Don't get me wrong. Without FFF technology, 3D printing would not be where it is at today, but there are too many moving parts or areas for potential failures. Basically, this leaves a gap between where we need to go vs. where we are today with additive manufacturing. There are some promising projects on the horizon though.
So, that leaves us with centralized print firms. I'm somewhat biased since I created this website, but I think there is a lot of merit in providing 3D printed parts for sometimes less than $20 without the fuss of owning a printer and learning all of the steps to make a high quality print. According to the 3D printing trends published by 3Dhubs , all of the popular print categories averaged about a $40 cost to the consumer. That is really cheap! Another advantage of going through a local print shop is that the consumer doesn't have to absorb the cost of ordering bulk materials on a project by project basis. So, at the cost of complete control over the process, the light-medium consumer of 3D printed parts is probably better off just ordering parts as needed using the appropriate firm depending on material availability, quality, speed, and customer service.
Regardless of where the future takes us, I'm really excited. Whether you want to order cool 3D printed models or participate in the manufacturing process yourself, the important part is that there are options!