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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Monday 4 February 2013

A Timely Dose of 3D Printing Reality?

Anyone that knows me or follows me here or on any of the various social media channels that I haunt, knows that I think 3D printing is a pretty great technology. It's true, I absolutely do. From the earliest days of rapid prototyping I have grasped, promulgated and maintained the potential of the technology most of us now call 3D printing.

I have never doubted that this technology is capable of amazing things, and today we are seeing more and more proof of what it can do. From ground-breaking medical applications that have changed individual lives for the better and industrial applications that are challenging century old 'laws' of manufacturing through to the singularly aesthetic with new forms of art and design, 3D printing has made a difference.

 In the future I believe it will do much, much more.

However, I am guilty of adorning rose-tinted glasses from my view point. It's been levelled at me before, I dare say it will be again. As a commentator and general by-stander, I do like to think I understand the reality of the 3D printing processes, what it involves, particularly the industrial grade systems that process powder  — it is a time consuming endeavour that requires highly experienced operators and it is NOT anywhere near a plug and play activity. Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, even a cursory glance at the 3DP forums frequented by hackers and makers with their own entry-level 3D printers will inform you that commitment, patience, trial & error and sometimes just sheer devotion are necessary traits to PIY (print-it-yourself).

So what has prompted this recap post about the realities of 3D Printing?

A rather brutal, but it has to be said, welcome dose of reality from 3DPConfidential. Highly recommended reading, if you haven't seen it already. If you put the ranting nature of this post aside for a minute, coming as it does from one, disillusioned employee of a 3D printing service provider, there are some stark points addressed in this post that should really make his employers sit up and take notice. And indeed, any leaders of companies that are building their business model around 3D printing.

First, a service business based on 3D printing needs to address the people-technology interface. If experience and expertise are overlooked — which they often seem to be — it will ultimately be to the detriment of the brand, which, in this case the '30-somethings' are working so hard to build. Branding is important, of course it is, but it is only skin deep. If there is nothing of substance behind the brand it surely has a short shelf-life?

Second, there also seems to be an issue with priorities — the web development vs the in-house printing capabilities. Juggling business demands necessarily involves prioritising, cost saving and balance. If this post is right though — it seems the balance is all wrong within this particular business.

Back to the nature of the post and the person behind it. I have no idea at all who the individual is, they absolutely need to keep their identity under-wraps to keep posting. I can make an educated guess at the organisation, but without hard evidence, I'm not for sharing here. The post, though, is obviously written by someone dealing with the realities of 3D printing day in and day out, someone on the frontline that makes 3D printing work for the "'community' of designers, online shop ownder and creative 'collaborators'" as testified by hands ingrained with nylon powder. The reference to "kids" in their thirties, while a tad patronising, would also suggest this person has age and experience under their belt. All of which points to someone worth listening to and learning from.

I have heard many others [all front line users of the tech] talking along similar lines in my time, but never anything this public. Whoever 3DPConfidential is, I admire their temerity. One can only hope that the powers that be sit up and take note?