I work for a 3D service bureau. We sell the printers ($1500 to over $250,000) and provide the service to those who only want or need occasional 3D printing.
Unfortunately, a college student who needs a model for a term project may have to pay hundreds or thousands for an appropriately large model. I know this to be true because we have had students inquire about our services, and some have used us to build models. We are at least 15% less costly than industry average, and the student models were over $800. That was last June.
Now there are some 3D printers that would have been capable of producing the model that cost $500. There would have been less than $200 of material used. If the printers that exist now had been available then, they would have saved money.
3D printers won’t “change the world” and that isn’t something I said. But, where it makes sense, 3D printing technology will provide positive changes in the way things are done. Would it not be better to have a generation of children who are actively engaged in development and design? So what if all they make are toys, they would be using their brains for creativity instead of mindlessly watching TV or playing console and computer games (tho games have their own benefits).
So while there are lots of prototyping technologies available as you list, these service bureaus are extremely expensive to use. Extremely expensive. And it makes sense that they would be costly to use, their equipment is the commercial grade stuff that we sell. They have to recoup costs. The point is, with 3D printers available for as little as $500 (and the quality is pretty good. 0.15 mm layer thickness). lots of people will be able to buy them and use them with free software to produce lots of things for a very low price.
What we are seeing here is just the start of the “home 3D printer” movement. The rate of improvement and price reductions is incredible. Would I buy one for myself at home? Probably not, since I get to use the 3D printers at my office. But, if I lost my job, I would likely buy one of these low cost beasties since I do have clients that pay me money to build them stuff that I design.
Scouting troups, RC clubs and other groups are likely purchasers of this technology. Yes, there are RP service bureaus. Again, I work at one. But these “clients” don’t need the 16 micron layer thickness that our units provide. It just doesn’t have to be that good.
One of my prospects asked for a quote on a model. It was going to cost them $1100. I checked Shapeways for the cost of the same item built on a lower quality process (FDM, extrusion) and the cost was only $200 less. Using a plaster technology was still $400. If our company had a FDM machine, we would have only charged $300 for the model. Like I said, the online services are VERY expensive. That would be a prime motivator to buy your own 3D printer IF you don’t need thin layers and IF you will be needing to make other models. Just think, in less than 4 models and the device will effectively pay for itself.
It might seem odd advocating for the “home” 3D printers when I work for a business that offers this service and concentrates on the higher quality devices, but just like some people buy Porsche, BMW, Benz, and other premium cars, there will also be people who buy general purpose Ford, GM and Dodge vehicles.
And there will be people who don’t see much sense in home 3D printers, well, I don’t see much sense in most rap music. But there are plenty of rap artists that are not hurting for cash, so that means that there is a market. Just because something doesn’t make sense to me doesn’t mean it won’t make sense to others. And if you see the rate of growth in the home 3D market, you will realize that a lot of people see sense in having a home 3D printer. What will they do with them? Who knows, who cares. If your not involved, it just doesn’t matter. If you are involved or want to be, then it is great.
So, Joe, our opinions don’t really matter. 3D printing technology will continue to improve and develop. And people will buy them for home use for whatever purpose makes sense to them. Just based on current trends, it is easy to see that 20% of the population will likely have one within the next decade. That is solely based on trends, not my nor any other person’s hopes and dreams. Actually, for my business, I hope that the home maker market fails. More business for me that way. But I also see that it is not likely to fail. Trends indicate that it will keep on going, the pace accelerating, so it is available to just about anyone who wants one.
10 years ago, a 32 inch LCD TV was rare to find in someone’s house. We have a 46”, and two 32” sets. What changed? The price.
In the 1940’s few homes had a TV but just about everyone had a radio. In the 1960’s color TVs were rare, by the 80’s they were common. Now almost everyone has a TV and probably a LCD one at that. We are at the beginning of another technology shift. A change in the game. And this change may just bring North America back to being inventive, creative and productive. I doubt that anyone in the USA or Canada would want our economies to stay stagnant.
Encouraging inventiveness, creativity and production would be a good thing, would you not agree?
Maybe having these home 3D printers, and the FREE design software can help the process. (Free software such as Sketchup, 123D, Sculptris and even D|S).
So, yes, while the RP services exist - and there will be an ongoing need these commercial services - there will also be a market for home 3D printers; just like in the automotive market. Some people buy or need premium equipment, others just need general purpose.