Pushbutton 3D Printers: Are They Right for Everyone?
Todd Grimm posted on May 11, 2012 |
Pushbutton operations are the right approach for consumer-class and personal-class 3D prin...
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Two years ago, the CEO of a leading 3D printer company publically stated that it would pursue pushbutton simplicity. That company has delivered on the promise — rolling out simple-to-operate systems while apparently ignoring its legacy products. This company is not alone.

Is this the right approach? In my opinion, no.

Pushbutton operations are the right approach for consumer-class and personal-class 3D printers where transparency is desired. However, it is the wrong approach for prototyping and production when requirements are more stringent.

With simplicity comes few user-controlled options. Basically, the dictates what is best. For run-of-the-mill applications, that’s fine. Make the process as transparent as that to print a copy of this blog post.

Consider the other extreme, 3D printing production parts, which is where all believe that the industry is headed. Will system-dictated parameters with few user options suffice? I don’t think so. Just imagine  CNC milling with no user control over spindle speeds, feed rates and cutting depths. How about an injection molding press with a “go” button and no access to temperature, pressure and cycle time controls?

Pushbutton systems will not be viable for production applications. They aren’t even desirable for functional prototyping. Users need access to the build parameters so that they can control quality, time and cost. Having had access to this level of control, 3D printing professionals know that a small adjust to a single parameter can affect all three.

Let’s go back to the 2D printing analogy. For 95% of what I print, the defaults are perfect. But when I need something different, I have access to controls such as:

  • Speed/quality (e.g., high-speed draft mode)
  • Greyscale printing
  • Duplex printing
  • Page layout (e.g, booklet printing)

These aren’t options for casual, everyday use.

Consider another example from the 2D world: image manipulation. To move entirely to pushbutton systems would be akin to saying that no one needs Photoshop because Windows Live Photo Gallery will do it all. Why on Earth would anyone want to learn how to use all the functions in Photoshop when a simple one-click “adjust settings” and red eye removal fixes bad photos? The answer is simple: Professionals in graphic arts and photography need control to produce a professional product.

3D printing professionals need that same influence over the output, at times. I believe that for professional- and production-class<link> systems, the ideal operating mode is to offer a hybrid solution. Give users a pushbutton option for the quick-and-dirty work while also opening up the full palette of system controls. Job by job, let the user decide when ease and efficiency trump fine-tuning quality, time and cost. 

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