3D Printing Part Deux

Here’s the follow-up to my 3D printing rant from last week (click here to see last week’s post).

This video demonstrates all the misleading hype about 3D printers the tech industry permeates into our social media.

A few things the 3D printing revolution will be good for:

Product Development – No surprise here since this is what it’s intended purpose is. The only reason the tech industry is putting out this propaganda is to sell 3D printers. Just like everyone needs a Thneed, we’re sold on the fact we’ll all need a 3D printer. The reality is lower cost printers are a boon to small businesses and institutions who are developing new products. The technology speeds the process to get unique products to market. But like any tool they are not and should not be the only means for making prototypes.

Replacement Parts – This is a primary (only?) area where 3D printers will revolutionize how we live. If you’re so inclined to have a printer at home you can have product companies send you a file to print your replacement part. This assumes that the company has the foresight to set up this service, and you know what how to install the part. The company can profit by selling you the print file (can be a one time use file). You win as a consumer because you have every part available to you. One major caveat: the products need to be designed for disassembly and repair. Can’t afford or don’t want a printer?….

Hardware Stores – Off the top of my head this is the main type of retailer that better get on the 3D printer bandwagon. They could, and should, still sell all the usual stuff but wouldn’t it be awesome if they had a 3D printer to print out that gear for my washing machine, or a replacement for the cracked housing on my stapler. It could be a whole new avenue for profit and service. We’ll be more than happy to design an in store printer environment by the way, if everyone promises to stop printing yoda heads to demonstrate the power of 3D printing.

User Interface Design – One of the only ways they’ll get 3D printers in the homes of the masses is if the user interface (U/I) is vastly improved. Currently most of our CAD software is designed by U/I techs and engineers with seemingly little regard for making things usable or intuitive. If we’re all going to design our own products from now on, and apparently we are, then we sure as heck better understand how to use the software and hardware. I’ve been using CAD for 20 years and still don’t fully understand how all the tools work, and I certainly couldn’t model something as complex as a woman’s shoe in CAD (I’d have to use a pen and paper like some sort of Neanderthal). The point is user interface design has a long way to go – putting more technology in the hands of the masses will necessitate better design.

Art & Biomimicry – This is kind of the catch-all but coupling 3D printing with 3D scanning technology opens whole new vistas for turning what man can conjure into new realities. Artists willing to take a plunge into the steep learning curve can churn out really awesome sculptures and artwork. Also we can learn from nature and create structures that aren’t easily resolved by current manufacturing methods. For example taking the strength of a skeleton and manufacturing it as a framework in a building or product. Yeah, 3D printers are really freaking good at doing that.

Space -Yes! This is where we need 3D printers. Load up our Mars spacecraft with at least three printers – one plastic, one metal and one with goo that makes human cells or tomatoes. Because space is one place where you need to build parts on site, on demand. I don’t live in space, so I’ll just goto Wal-Mart.

Some question marks I have:

On-Demand Manufacturing – I get it, you store bytes instead of products on shelves. But I need someone to start showing me parts and products that really can be used. Show me the true costs involved. I abhor tooling, but I also understand the advantages injection molding, metal fabrication and other manufacturing processes have based on quantities. On-demand manufacturing may not be right for your product or business.

Community – One of the selling points is that we’ll make all our stuff by 3D printing. We won’t need designers, factories, shipping companies…you name it, anymore. Um, if no one works in mass production anymore, what are they going to do? What happens to the communities that depend on manufacturing to be able to flourish? Okay, this is an extreme example but just because we can self provide doesn’t mean we should. On the surface every new technology looks like it will save us. What we need to do is focus on community instead of the latest social media darling.

Role Of Designers – What will making everyone a designer do for design? Why should I hire a designer when I can just do it myself? I not sure where things will land but I know design is tougher than most people think it is. Maybe the advent of manufacturing democracy will mean more people will need design services. Maybe 3D printers will force my hand and nix my value as a designer. I don’t know.

More Stuff – The advent of 3D printing for the masses doesn’t solve the social problems associated with consumerism. It says we still need stuff, we just don’t need the system to produce it for us. Well I think that’s a pretty narrow viewpoint of stuff and the system that produces stuff. We should value material and human craftsmanship. The ease of self manufacturing also makes it easier to make and consume products that may not be entirely thought out, in an unregulated environment. 3D printing for the masses, as it is sold in the articles and videos disconnects us from the earth and society as a whole.

With mass production if we needed 10,000 cups we had one machine making them. Now with the 3D printer revolution we need 10,000 cups we need 10,000 machines plugged into every house making them singularly.

I don’t see how that is progress.


What we need to do

Start valuing ecology, humanity and economy. Understand the impact design has on all three. Read ‘Cradle-to-Cradle‘ when you get a chance. It talks about fundamentally designing systems and products to be nurturing to what we really need as a planet.

3D printing challenges the status quo, so for that fact alone I applaud it. But we need to temper all of the media glamor with a dose of logic and understanding of the pros and cons of the tool.

And know that it’s you and I that will change the world. 3D printers will just help make our job a little easier.


Here’s a good Newsweek article on the topic.


Where am I off base?

What do you agree with?

What can you expound upon?

Share in comments below.


Chris Weigand is president of Chris Weigand Design, LLC – a full service retail design firm. Visit us at http://www.chrisweiganddesign.com for more information. And no we don’t have a 3D printer yet but would really like one someday.



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