When I first read about the future of 3D printing, I was amazed at how far we had come from the days of old. I know that when I purchased my first color printer all those many long years ago, (the early ’90s), it made me feel like a king. At the time, this simple dot-matrix color printer was considered to be state-of-the-art and, at $500, quite expensive. However, one must remember that this was a time when RAM was selling for $50 a MB (not GB, like today), hard disks were selling for $1 per MB, and the least expensive Packard Bell computers were selling for $1,500.
As I continued my hopscotch journey through time, I also recalled the same excitement as I converted from that original dot-matrix printer to first an ink jet and then to a laser printer. In fact, just this last week I bought my latest HP LaserJet printer with Wi-Fi for only $105 and have been delighted with not only its performance but also with HP’s ePrint technology. What I found is that HP’s ePrint technology had produced a system that was a breeze to set up and use, (even my Apple iPad works perfectly using ePrint, which is free for use by HP owners using a supported printer). In fact, when I had finished the setup process and experimented with my new toy, my thoughts took me once again to those older printers from 20 years ago. It made me wonder how we ever considered yesterday’s technology, with its funky printed material, to be acceptable in the work environment.
This makes me wonder, however, how long it will be before my latest purchase is going to go the way of the DOS desktop computer since, even as I write this article, there are companies out there that are in the process of engineering 3D printers for personal use.
What is the Cost?
First, remember that this is not a new concept. 3D printing has been around for quite a while, but was once confined to the engineering world and/or to those who had the $30k to purchase a 3D printer. However, today’s 3D printers are available to the general public for as little as $1,299. I’ll admit that this is still a high price for a printer, but prices should fall as the concept of this new 3D printing takes hold with the public. In fact, I would venture an educated guess that, in the next three years or so, the cost of 3D printers should drop dramatically.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
The concept of how this 3D technology works is actually quite simple. Of course I am assuming that we are all familiar with a standard ink jet printer that basically squirts ink onto a piece of paper. 3D printing builds on this as it renders the image or object by building up layers of print in order to give the object a 3D effect. This buildup of layers actually creates the object and not just a picture of the object.
How is 3D Printing Going to Change Our Lives?
So why would you need this? How is it going to change the way we envision projects? There are two ways that 3D printing is going to change our lives:
First of all, it will change the way things are done in the manufacturing arena where composites can now be used to replace steel. This means that the engineer, using a CAD design, will be able to take apart a printed design in order to strengthen those support areas that appear weak.
This type of printing can also prove beneficial to the do-it-yourself homeowner who wishes to add depth to a visual model of a home project. This means that one could actually take a picture of an object, then convert the picture to a CAD file and then print the object on a 3D printer. Just think of the possibilities. It is not inconceivable that, using this media, this same homeowner might be able to recruit some help from his family and friends. Of course, the addition of a good steak and glass of wine might help prior to the sharing of a 3D rendering of his/her project.
What About Intellectual Property Rights and Patent Laws?
When this technology really takes off, one must then look at possible problems with patents, codes, or any other infringements that might arise. Ryan Matthew Pierson recently wrote an excellent article, Patent Wars: Enough is Enough, about this very subject. I believe it is well worth the read since I would imagine that everything that surrounds our daily lives could possibly have some type of intellectual property right or patent. That means that we could, in theory, be personally sued if we were to reproduce a product, item, or whatever if someone, somewhere has already laid claim to the concept.
What’s scary is that, in an age where it appears that every company in the technology field is suing every other technology company, we cannot preclude that these same companies won’t bring suit against consumers. Remember, this occurred when the RIAA was running amok and suing music downloaders (including children and their parents). Given that, one would have to accept the possibility of others following a similar path and suing 3D printer uses for a variety of violations — perceived or otherwise.
What do you think? Could a 3D printer be in your future?
Source: T. Rowe Price