Is Affordability a Problem for 3D Printing?
3D printing promises to reshape the world, but its high entry cost remains a stumbling block for most business owners. Although it is highly unlikely to become a common desktop device anytime soon, it is an incredible technological achievement that could have a promising future where companies can store 3D model designs in the cloud for on-demand replication and manufacturing.
Initially, 3D printers were capable of printing only small objects like plastic eating utensils and toys, for instance, but now just about anything that can be imagined can be manufactured on a 3D printer from a wide range of materials such as metals, plastics and carbon fibre, among others.
In fact, engineers have even printed a drivable sports car, a small home and a multi-story building using large 3D printers. Whilst this seems to be an impressive feat, and it is, the technology isn’t at the point where auto makers and construction companies will be ditching their current processes in favour of producing cars and homes on 3D printers.
Whilst the cost of 3D printing technology is still too high for manufacturing products on a mass scale, they may be more highly suited for producing product samples and replacing missing parts. Also, it could help start-ups and entrepreneurs to produce mock-ups and proof of concept prototypes in-house reducing the time consuming and expensive process of the initial product development.
Like other technological innovations, 3D printing technology has demonstrated its potential to disrupt the traditional manufacturing process. Even though less expensive three dimensional printers are popping up, it is still too costly for most to deploy as a standard business device. Plus, size matters. The bigger the object, the larger the printer needs to be.
However, like the story of fax machines and laser printers which were unattainable by most when they were first introduced, the possibility remains that the same may hold true for 3D printers a few years from now.