Does 3D Printing Have a Future for Consumers?

June 18, 2016

6:00 pm

Last Christmas, there were a number of 3D printing kits for kids that were popular gift purchases. Using a “blueprint” and different colors of plastic blocks, kids could print replicas of the Eiffel Tower or the U.S. Capitol. And of course they could order more blueprints and plastic for future “projects,” perhaps related to school assignments. As yet, however, widespread consumer use of 3D printing has not taken off. Does this mean that it is just a “fad” that will soon die out? Most predictors in the 3D printing niche say “no.”

Why Predictors are So Optimistic

If we look at the history of technology innovations, we find a very common pattern.

  • The technology is introduced
  • The technology is adopted by business and other organizations
  • Individual consumers believe that the technology is really not for them
  • Over time, individual consumers embrace the technology and it moves into their lives in a big way – think in-home computers and the Internet

Proponents of 3D printers for consumer use believe that this technology will follow the same pattern, and that, within the next 10 years, 3D printers will have found their way into homes, just as computers and the Internet have. Right now, there is a pretty high learning curve in the use of 3D printers, but so was there when home PC’s and the Internet were introduced. These, predictors say, will be overcome, as manufacturers deal with ease of use issues.

What 3D Printing Will Mean for Consumers

You have purchased an expensive pair of sunglasses online. You have abused them a bit, and now one of the hinges has broken. Right now, you can send those glasses off to the manufacturer and have that hinge replaced. Ten years from now, you may get on the manufacturer’s website, order and pay for a “blueprint,” and print out your own hinge, making your glasses usable immediately. This is the reality that consumers will experience within the next 10 years.

3D printing will also create many new businesses – those that will print products that consumers want and need. For example, a violinist wants a replica of a Stradivarius – one that will emulate the tonal quality of an original that now sells for millions of dollars. Today, there is a company that can produce that very item.

And this is only one example of the almost limitless benefits that 3D printing can provide for consumers. While high-end printers may be replicating luxury cars in the near future, Amazon has already introduced 3D printing technology for regular consumers who just want “normal” household and personal goods. This may be the future of the retail market – customized products based upon specifications provided by the consumer.

Household 3D Printers

This technology has not been widely embraced by consumers, except as “toys” for kids and for adults who want a fun experience from the technology. But more and more, the practical implications of 3D printing technology will be known to consumers, and, as the value of being able to print replacement parts, to print dishes, replacement glassware and silverware, replicas of designer clothing, furniture, wall art, and more, the idea of creating unique products to fill unique needs and desires is an exciting prospect.

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Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She’s slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien

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