As I watched this programme on Channel 4 last night, it filled me with great joy to see just how far 3D printing has come just by virtue of the fact that it was featured on prime time TV on a Sunday evening. The coverage was positive, presented simply and informatively and came across as a relevant tool for households of the future.
My position on 3D printing and additive manufacturing is unequivocal in that it is a fantastic technology capable of great things for both industry and customised manufacturing — which are just starting to come to fruition. In previous posts, I have given my opinion and predictions on how 3D printing could potentially become a household tool, with a timeline of around 20 years. This was the subject of last night's programme, and it did a convincing job, although no specific timeline was offered.
3D Printing was introduced by the presenter as technology that offers, "a technological revolution in manufacturing and retail and I believe it will be as big as the internet."
Quite a statement. He went on to say that the 3D printing industry is estimated as being worth over £3 billion by 2020. Which sounds a large sum, but in the context of current global tech companies, is just a drop in the ocean. Indeed, 3D printing still has a lot of growing up to do.
A couple of things left me feeling a little uneasy though as I watched (resulting in the occasional twitch) namely that the programme made no reference to costs or required know-how, the assumption being it was a plug-and-play activity with a cursory nod to the need for design input via one's computer. It is precisely these issues that will, in my opinion, determine whether 3D printing does become a viable household tool in time. Those together with the material choices and material handling capabilities. Household use of 3D printing will require continued evolution of the processes that result in plug & play machines, well under £1000, that can process multiple materials safely & easily, and don't take up quite as much space as the Objet machine that was sat in the corner of the dining room in the "house of the future". The only other twitchy moment came when Mia, the daughter of the house of the future, was asked her opinion of the opportunities for customisation that 3D printing offered. She was excited and very obviously inspired by the tech, but this quote sums up the monumental cultural shift that also has to take place, in that Mia, a teenager, said, "I'd still prefer to go out and shop."