3D Printers Hyped Too Much?

adoption, trough, 3d model, modeling, price point, gartner, printer, computer, softwareWe recently reported on a study published by the technology research firm Gartner. Their report concluded that companies who adopt 3D printing technology early would see an advantage over their competitors. However, when it came to consumer adoption of 3D printing the study wasn’t nearly as sanguine.

In the past few years, the explosion of consumer grade and DIY 3D printers has exploded. There’s hardly a week that goes by without another 3D printer being released on KickStarter. Couple that with the wild stories that a 3D printing revolution will change manufacturing any day now, and it’s hard not to get whipped up into a frenzy about this technology. But before you go out and buy your own 3D printer, take a look at what the people over at Gartner had to say about consumer adoption of 3D printers.

adoption, trough, 3d model, modeling, price point, gartner, printer, computer, softwareAccording to Peter Basiliere, research director and author of the Gartner study, one of the sticking points that will likely create a “trough of disappointment” for early adopters is the amount of education it takes to create a 3D model.  Basiliere notes that before you create a print you have to have a model. While there are repositories online where anyone can download a 3D model for a print, most users will see the technology as a way to create custom parts that they themselves generate. To do this effectively, a user has to be proficient with 3D Modeling software that can be extremely complicated.

Furthermore, Basiliere says “”Once you have [3D modeling skills], now you still have to print it out, and depending upon the consumer’s skill set, it could be a very difficult process of trial-and-error getting the printer to produce the part that they envisioned… Not that the printer is incapable, but there may be need for support structures and other elements in the design that, if the consumer isn’t proficient with the software, it leads to a bad print.”

So while the price of 3D printers continues to dip well into affordable range, anyone thinking about purchasing a printer should consider the surrounding issues that Basiliere highlights. 3D printing is an awesome technology, and in the future many of the issues that Basiliere brings up might be a thing of the past. But for now, adopters shouldn’t succumb to the hype; they should see DIY and at-home 3D printers for what they are, experiments in engineering education.

Source: Network World

Images Courtesy of Wikipedia and Makerbot