Friday, 6 January 2012

Will 3D Printing disappear?

Christopher Mims, writing in the MIT Technology Review, believes that 3D Printing will go the way of Virtual Reality, it will disappear. He says that extruding, printing and sintering are simply not the same as manufacturing. Is he right?

Mims compares the complexity of an iPhone, with the simplicity of many of today's 3D printed objects. Yet he focuses too much on claims he claims are being made that "3-D printing will on any reasonable time scale become a mature technology that can reproduce all the goods on which we rely is to engage". We are not sure who is claiming this. Rather, most observers point to the successes of 3D printing, such as this 3D printed Jaw. It is not about mass-manufacturing at this time, and no one is saying it is.

We think it is unfair of Mims to criticize some parts of the hobbyist 3D printing movement for "ideology". They are just doing what they enjoy, pushing the boundaries of engineering. One wonders what Mims has created during his life? And then he points to the hackneyied story of Gartner Hype Cycles, which are themselves widely discredited.

Mims does admit that "There will be plenty of interesting applications for 3-D printing, but I'll bet the ones that will have the biggest impact will be within traditional factories, where rapid prototyping is having a big impact [quoting an old article from 2006]." So, Mims is really saying this: 3D Printing won't be good enough to 3D Print consumer objects like iPhones at home. Yet no one ever suggested this to our knowledge.

Mims has produced nothing more than a simple piece of tech-journalism in order to get more eyeballs. He may however be right on a point which has been written about extensively elsewhere, which is that 3D Printing may disappear and be called what it is: manufacturing.

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