3D Printing: at a Crossroads

3D printing is at a crossroads. It’s popular in industrial settings, and among consumers it has a small but devoted following. But what about the mainstream consumer? A panel at CE Week called “3D Printing for the Rest of Us” explored the issue.

The panel, moderated by PCMag.com printer/scanner analyst Tony Hoffman, consisted of Transcend 3D principal and founder Charlene Flick, Shapeways designer evangelist Duann Scott, 3D Systems director of marketing for consumer products Keith Ozar, and MakerBot vice president of digital products Joey Neal.

So far, 3D printers for consumers are largely focused on plastic tchotchkes, but that’s just the most pervasive evidence of what they’re able to do in a home, said the panelists. Ozar really hit home on the potential appeal of these products when he said you can now 3D-print a prosthetic for a child for “just a few bucks” at home. “This is a tool that empowers people,” he added. “It’s more than a factory in your house. It’s a tool for creation… It’s not about toys. It’s about useful objects and practical things.” Ozar said that as children grow up with 3D printers, as with computers, they’ll come up with all kinds of ideas for how to use the technology that no one has even considered yet.

The panel described an ongoing effort to make printing as simple and “one-touch” as possible for consumers, most of whom won’t want to take a deep dive into the nuances of the technology. They also discussed the importance and ongoing development of an “ecosystem” for 3D printing that will take the technology forward. That ecosystem includes the printers themselves; online stores and communities like MakerBot’s Thingiverse, which offers turnkey, previously designed objects to print; and of course the materials needed to print the objects.

A video of the 3D Printing seminar may be viewed below:

Joe Paone is director of content for CTPG. jpaone@napco.com
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