Home 3D Printing: A Hammer Looking for a Nail

In previous posts xray-delta has looked at 3D printing (Chinese Company Prints a House, Printing Food, The End of Scale Production?). Now the price of basic 3D printers has dropped low enough to make it possible to buy one these for home use. The question is, just how long will it take for 3D printing’s killer app to appear and just what will that app help us do that will take 3D printing from novelty to breakthrough?

One manufacturer that has printers aimed at the home market is MakerBot. They have several printers and a scanner for sale as well as a store for downloading objects to print (like a pretty cool T-Rex skeleton). Their entry-level Replicator Mini can prints things up to 3.9 inches square by 4.9 inches tall. As a person fascinated by gadgets I think its cool, but then the left brain kicks in and asks: just what will you do with it?

That is the question for this market. One is struck by how early personal computer hobbyists, such as those at the famous Home Brew Computing Club (where Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs participated), struggled to get their computers to operate and then scratched their heads over just what they would do with them. It took one or more killer applications (like spreadsheets) to give these devices a commercial raison d’être.

I do think one lucrative (though small) niche might be home model builders, folks that like to make scale models of ships, planes and sci-fi spacecraft. The ability to download precise scale components for use in models would not appeal to a huge group but would appeal to a segment that is fanatical to the point of shelling out a lot of coin and hours to build accurate replicas. But as for a broad application (other than replacement parts for Lego toys) that is the $X billion question.

It will interesting to see what happens to this technology in 10 years time.



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