3D Printing For The Mainstream


My good friend Al Dean of DEVELOP3D has written an interesting piece on his blog titled “3D Systems: gearing up for the mainstreaming of 3D printing“. He has tried to put pieces of the 3D Systems puzzle together. He explains the acquisition spree that 3D Systems has been on for the last couple of years and makes guesses regarding where the company is headed. He predicts:

In a year or whatever it takes, 3D Systems will have a global manufacturing capacity, presumably backed up by the hundreds of service bureaux it already has machines in place at. It has the potential to build a back catalogue of not only higher-end products from the likes of Freedom of Creation, but also the community built 3D models from The3DStudio.com. That means that as 3D printing becomes more mainstream, as the general public (as opposed to the professional user) becomes more aware of the ability to direct manufacture its own parts and products, it stands to be ready. With content to lead those that don’t have the desire or ability to model their own.

All I will add is this. Go to www.3dsystems.com and take a look at the main menu towards the top.

We have Personal 3D Printers, Professional 3D Printers and Production 3D Printers. Al has hit the nail on the head. The time has come to take 3D printing to the mainstream. Everybody understands “3D” and everybody understands “printing”. There is no point in confusing the crap out of everyone with terms like additive fabrication/manufacturing/prototyping/whatever. The mainstream does not understand those terms and will not want to have anything to do with it. That’s precisely why we named our company Print3D. Its obvious. We print in 3D.

Over these years I have watched in absolute amazement industry analysts and commentators argue this topic to death. And then some more. They have all been fighting over terms to describe what  it is that they are doing. There is an age old mailing list called RPML where people have been pulling terms out of their asses for as long as I can remember. They fail to see that the technology has outgrown their thinking and has taken a form of its own.

This industry is at the point where the smartphones were before Apple created the iPhone. Back then we had convoluted devices with confusing terminologies and user interfaces to do complicated things. The result was that  the devices could be used only by people who could make sense of it all. Apple threw all that aside and created a beautiful device that abstracted the complexities of a smartphone in such a way that even kids could use it. The result was millions of iPhones flooded the market and the smartphone industry opened up overnight.

We need something similar and we need to start by keeping it simple. I say screw this additive and subtractive bullshit. I’m calling this 3D printing because that is precisely what it is.

  • Rachel Park

    That’s more like it ;-))

    Totally agree that 3D printing is how the world at large will label & understand this technology! The rp-ml terminology debates entertained me no end when I was working late into the night before the advent of twitter! Fond memories!! But, for the record, some very interesting and knowledgable people on that list – don’t ‘diss’ the rp-ml!!!! 🙂

    • Not dissing the RPML. Just recollecting those pointless debates, that’s all.

  • I understand the thinking Deelip, and am in full agreement that too much time has been spent on the semantics of the tech… BUT, I think you’re missing the point that while 3D printing is almost certainly the best ‘name’ for the consumer world, AM still has a place in industry.

    Simplification of tech and terminology is a must if the mainstream is to ‘get’ the technology, but for certain applications calling it 3D printing won’t cut it. I can’t see straight-laced, risk averse industries like aerospace promoting 3D printed parts on planes, for example. Or a printed implant offered by your surgeon?

    I’m currently in the AMBI CEO Summit, and the above message is coming through loud and clear!

    • This is precisely the line of thinking that guided those pointless debates. You think the people who put parts in planes would do so if you told them that the parts were manufactured as opposed to printed? Same with a surgeon or dentist? Do you think these guys are complete idiots and are waiting for someone to tell them what to do and what they should tell people they are doing?

      • just a comment


      • just a comment


      • Kevin Quigley

        Deelip as a consumer of 3D printing, additive manufacturing and prototyping the terminology means bugger all. What we are interested in is how fast, how much and at what quality – in other words is the output fit for function? If the parts get through whatever standards procedures drive a particular industry then they will get used. If they don’t then they won’t. Simple as that.

        The simple reality is that for every component a 3D AM systems company PRs there are tend of thousands that are made from subtractive manufacture (ie CNC machining) simply because the materials used are robust, have passed approvals and can be simulated. Doing simulation on critical components of AM parts is difficult. Until this is addressed the use of AM will continue to be restricted to very limited applications.

        But the main reason is that parts are often just not that well designed for AM/3D printing. As a designer we have to design to a manufacturing process, but one of the issues with AM/printing is that there are so many processes with so many pros and cons to cater for. Sure there are a few golden rules but you cannot really guarantee part consistency to the extent that you can with a bedded in plastic injection moulding or a casting. One of the benefits of 3D printing is that you just print the part, but if you need to print 10 or 20 parts to get 5 consistent ones that kind of defeats the object a bit and drives up costs.

        No, I think there will continue to be new markets developed as we get better at designing for them and machines get more consistent and materials get better, but before we can look at AM parts taking on structural roles we need far better tools to allow us to design for the processes more, and to build in multiple redundacies to cater for potential flaws in materials and part consistency.

        Once we get that in place, THAT is when AM will hit the truly big time for  a much larger audience IMHO.

      • No Deelip, I don’t think they’re idiots at all and I don’t think I even implied that — on the contrary I believe they could even grasp big words like ‘additive’ and ‘manufacturing’ if they really tried — but as long as we have working groups like the Additive Manufacturing Branding Initiative (of which your employer is a founder member) I don’t believe we’re going to see 3D printing become the catch-all term.

        I agree with Kevin that terminology is far from the top of the list in terms of issues, but without a shared lexicon it will be more difficult to resolve the problems faced by all companies in this arena. The ASTM has already published guidelines in its F42 committee that define the terms you are referring to quite succinctly, through a process that any interested party could have had their say in.

        • If my employer’s description of its hardware is any indication, 3D printing already IS the catch-all term. Look around you. Not within your closed circle of people who have been arguing about this for years.

          What you guys don’t seem to get is that there is already a world out there called manufacturing which has established processes and standards. You are trying to squeeze 3D printing into that world in the hope of gaining some kind of acceptability.

          Acceptability comes when you stop confusing people and start giving them a clear value proposition. Not by calling things similar to what they are familiar with. You guys are still looking at this from the manufacturing industry’s point of view. There is a much bigger world out there.

          And another thing. If 3D printing does go mainstream, what will the catch-all term be? A term that a minor section of the people are trying to brand? Or something that everyone understands the first time they hear it?

          • Kevin Quigley

            With respect Deelip I think many consumers already know about 3D printing – I am not sure that is the issue. I think the issue is content and a means to customising that content – ‘cos if you cannot customise it you might as well tool it up.

            The world out there is indeed bigger than manufacturing but the reality is that whatever happens in the 3D printing arena will be compared to “traditionally” tooled up manufacturing processes. Of course there is a growing and potentially lucrative market there for companies that can develop a shop front for designer/makers/hobbyists aimed at consumers who do want something a bit different or quirky. But for that true mass market 3D printing falls way short when it comes to costs and quality. Sure some processes are reasonably robust but many just do not offer a long term proposition for quality and start to wear down or deform easily.

            Forgive me if I am a bit cynical but then I have been buying 3D printed components for prototypes and manufacturing since 1991 (that was when I bought my first FDM parts). That is 20 years, so I think I probably know a bit more about the pros and cons than many of the people in the industry selling these tools. I have heard some real crap in my time I can tell you! When I look at the quality of parts coming off the new breed of 3D printers I feel a little dismayed – the quality is no better than it was 15 years ago – it seems to me that all the big patent holders have been sitting on their hands protecting the processes rather than developing new ones.

            It strikes me that as the patents run dry the RP companies are starting to panic and buying up the new kids on the block in the hope that they have some means of flogging content whilst producing the hardware.

            Of course there are new processes under development now and it is still my hope we get a laser printer sized 3D printer producing step free robust parts for under £20 each for under £3000, that is silent in use, doesn’t smell, doesn’t need an agitation tank or chemicals and can sit in the corner of your open plan small office churning away making parts in an hour or two. At that level it becomes a value proposition for all those manufacturers out there and designers – the pro market.

          • Kevin Quigley

            Sorry (I wish you could edit posts!), I should have said that the quality of “most” 3D printers now is much the same as 15 years ago. Some newer systems like the Eden do produce great parts but with those systems there is more of a compromise on cost vs robustness vs cost of hardware and most require additional finishing hardware that effectively rules them out of a standalone office setting.

          • “The world out there is indeed bigger than manufacturing but the reality
            is that whatever happens in the 3D printing arena will be compared to
            “traditionally” tooled up manufacturing processes.”

            Don’t do that. Don’t tie things back to traditional manufacturing. A kid has no clue about manufacturing. All he cares about is getting a real object from some virtual object he created or acquired. That’s the mainstream market I am referring to. If you keep comparing this to traditional manufacturing you will end up in the same circle as the folks on the RPML.

            As providers of the technology it is our responsibility to make it happen for them. I take you back to my Apple example. We need to get the technology and user interface to a point where a kid can do 3D printing with the same easy as he does regular printing. It will happen and everyone will call it 3D printing. They already are. Come to think of it, they may just call it printing. Because I can see a day when there  will be just one device to do both – 2D and 3D printing.

          • Luke Adams

            I find the semantics of this technology interesting due to certain investments I have been making in relation to 3D printing. My investment niche is ‘Future Trend Domain Investment’ and I am one of hundreds of people who research emerging technologies (ie. Solar, 3d, holography, robotics) and then invest in the related domain names available, developing sites, creating a revenue stream from affiliate marketing. From the forums I participate in, most people have focussed on either “3d printing” or “3dp” names, no one has once mentioned “additive manufacturing” or “am”. Either we are all missing a trick or we understand how the lexicon within technology works. Additive Manufacturing is NOT a term my mum, son or grandmother will ever use. It will most likely be used my manufacturers alone. And eventually, once “3d printing” becomes common parlance, it will probably be reduced to 3DP, and with it, create a global recognition, just like HD, 3D, TV etc. Also, as Deelip points out, the term “printing” could become the eventual generic catch all term, hence my registration of domains like furnitureprinting.com, concreteprinting.com, toolprinting.com. We’ll be so used to “printing” our objects I don’t imagine anyone “additively manufacturing” anything…

          • Kevin Quigley

            Luke if you think you can make money from flogging domains good luck to you, everyone I know who did this in the dot com boom days never managed to – in fact I even dabbled myself with http://www.designandmanufacture.com – still have it! Maybe if I had http://www.designand 3dprint.com I could have made some dosh eh? 😉

            At the end of the day this is all semantics – you say potAtoe I say potAItoe as the old song went. What really matters are the holy trinity of cost, quality and speed. Those of us in the 3D world should look to history and the 2D world  – all we are doing is following their lead.

            I vividly recall seeing the first print out of a report from a  laser printer when I was at the Royal College of art in the 80s. Somebody had produced a report that looked like a book, whereas I had relied on a typewriter. Never again.

            Fast forward to the early 90s and I bought my first A3 inkjet and was printing high quality photographic images on my own desktop! Amazing.

            In the commercial print world we went through various phases of quality and cost and now have some fantastic pieces of kit running high volume digital presses, while back at the desktop level the quality levels have increased and the hardware costs have tumbled – but – interestingly – the cost per page have not really dropped that much in comparison.

            In the 3D world though we have a problem. Whatever we are producing on the desktop level is nowhere near the quality of the mass produced product – unlike the print world where the two are identical for most uses (and in many respects the one of desktop printer is better quality that the £1m+ 5 colour press). This I think is always the issue and the simple fact is that no matter how hard the 3D printer fraternity push the product you cannot compare the quality levels.

            Unlike Deelip I do think it is necessary to compare 3D printing to “traditional” manufacturing because I believe that this is where the future of the technology lies – is some kind of combination of RP technology with a more traditional type of process. For if 3D printing  – as a service – is to truly make the big time the hardware has to be developed that allows this to happen – and that means high volume, highly customisable, highly automated manufacturing processes – in other words, not the £3000 desktop printer. Do you really see Shapeways or similar churning out parts on a Dimension or ZCorp machine in 3 or 4 years? I don’t. If they are, I will be very disappointed that the industry is so backwards looking.

  • Proepro

    I remember the day you introduced yourself to the world on the RPML with your .RP file format. Was that Sycode’s first product? How successful was it?

    Whether it is called RP, AM or 3D printing the name will only stick around for a few years before it is replaced with the next fad for the same thing.

    • I created OpenRP before SYCODE. All the software is free. Tens of thousands have downloaded the software till date. Its just a better way to encrypt and transmit STL data. Nothing really revolutionary.

  • R. Paul Waddington

    Come on guys, I like Kevin have components made so long ago (of layers of paper) I have forgotten the actual date; and they weren’t the first ones by several years.  I didn’t give a rats patuty how they were made they were just needed to achieve a result.
    The point here is the word “made” and the so called inferred new world being described in this post has all the hallmarks of the 2d to 3d debacle; industry pundits trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill.
    Deelip things are “made”: call it manufacturing, baking, painting or sculpting it matters not; things are “made” and the way they are made will always be compared to other ways of making similar things. If one method favours a particular task it will be selected despite what it is called!

    • Kevin Quigley

      Ah good old LOM (that is Laminate Object Manufacturing)!! You used to be able to buy specially adapted plotters that would cut the profiles onto self adhesive plastic then you assembled them manually on a jig, great stuff!

      But actually it does demonstrate a good point. LOM was optimised for large objects and this is an area where RP/3D printing has failed dismally in that there are still no real economic RP processes for anything larger than about a metre – and large objects is where the real benefits of accelerated development usually come into play.

      As far as I know only Materialise offer big commercially available SLA parts on their home grown Mammoth machines “printing” entire auto IPs in one hit. I must admit as 3D Systems is on the purchase round I did wonder if Materialise were going to be snapped up next.

  • I think you’re missing the point that while 3D printing is almost
    certainly the best ‘name’ for the consumer world, AM still has a place
    in industry.