Thanks for the great responses to last week's blog posting: Consumer 3D Printing? I agree with many of the comments. One in particular I agree with is that open source FDM 3D printers are not for the average consumer.
Open source goes a long way toward lowering cost, increasing awareness, and advancing 3D printing technologies. These are all important in order for 3D printing to become a consumer activity.
In my opinion though, in order to break through to this market it must also be fast, have simplicity and elegance. I think of the average person coming home from work (not a technical person) and finding that broken knob on the stove. What would it take for 3D printing to be the preferred method of replacing the knob?
At the very least it would have to be as easy as going to the manufacturers website, picking out the replacement knob, placing an order with a credit card and waiting a few days for the “original” knob to arrive in the mail. 10 to 15 minutes of time online, 2 days waiting, and no technical experience necessary. Open source – and all commercial 3D printers have a ways to go before they can compete with that.
One of the reasons it is difficult to imagine consumer 3D printing is that most everything in the home, office, or car has been mass-produced. That means a tool most likely exists that can turn out replacement parts by the thousands at a very low cost. 3D printing is ideally suited for printing “snowflakes”. The theory is that no two snowflakes are the same. So, if you wanted to produce just a single piece of a one of a kind object would you produce a steel tool and injection mold it?
This is the sweet spot for 3D printing and why it is used for concept models, early stage design verification, architecture, art, low volume prototype parts, etc… Yes, consumers would most likely use a 3D printer to make one or two of any particular part but that part most likely already exists somewhere by the thousands or even millions.