I went along to the 3D printshow in London yesterday, mainly to check out the current status of consumer 3D printing. I am positive that this technology will change many industries in the coming years but what I have seen of it in the consumer space has produced not I consider useful. They seem to concentrate on trinkets and the occasional bracket.
There were quite a few consumer 3D printer manufacturers, including who seems to be the best at marketing, Makerbot (to be fair they make a great product and were one of the first out there). I couldn’t see anything that was actually useful in any of the consumer printer stands, they had mainly printed toys. I was looking for something that would actually compel someone to have a 3D printer in the home.
There were some printed lampshades I thought were neat, home decoration is something people spend money on but I am not sure how often you want to change your lampshades (some people would do this often I guess).
After mooching around on the bottom floor not finding much I went upstairs. Much to my delight I came across what I think was the London school of design exhibit. There they had some weird and wonderful stuff including 3D printed shoes! To be fair only half of the shoes were printed, the base was made out of what seemed like a ceramic material. This was the type of stuff I was looking or; printing clothes at home would certainly revolutionise the fashion industry. The rubber like material didn’t seem that comfortable but I was excited by the possibilities.
Around the corner was another exhibit that focused on recycling materials, the designer had reused tin cans, jars and bottles by printing out useful items that could be added to them. There was a juicer on top of a jar, a handle that made a very nice mug from another type of jar and they had even made dumbbells by reusing some tin cans. Very smart and something I would want to actually use and pay for.
All this got me thinking, I had initially just thought of 3D printing stand alone. I thought people would just download a design, print it out and voilà, something useful. That now doesn’t seem to be very practical, especially as you would need at least two types of material to make most things. What I now think is the way forward is to add on the 3D printed thing to something you already have or you buy from a 3rd party. For example, being able to print on top of the shoe base would enable you to reuse that same base if you wanted to change the style or the top were worn out. The base would be inexpensive and I would buy new designs or just use open sourced designs.
One such idea is the 3D printed headphones, from Teague labs. The shell is printed and the electronics are bought online for $10 or so. It turns out the electronics that headphones use cost only a fraction of what the headphones are sold for.
I expect to see many more ideas like this in the coming months and years and can't wait for this technology to come to maturity in the consumer space.