In five, years every home in America will have a 3D printer.
TechCrunch’s Jon Evans and Microsoft’s Tom Blank, however, don’t share my view. They envision a future where Home Depot and Kinkos-style shops fill local needs while online markets focus on larger projects and more intense customization, leaving no room for personal printers.
Big companies have already caught on to the technology. Amazon, for example, is planning to install commercial printers in all of its U.S. factories and Staples is rolling out 3D equipment in its European stores.
But the Home Depot and Staples models aren’t going to be nearly as popular as home printing. Why? Because the product chain is just too bulky and unpleasant.
I live three blocks from a Fed-Ex Kinkos but have to allot 45 minutes to print, scan, sign and fax a document. It’s an experience marked by generic software, outdated hardware, undereducated staff, and sluggish execution times.
The beauty of 3D printing is in its potential to save us from that kind of time suck. Do I want to drive to the local Home Depot, wait on-line, pay, and drive home? No. I want fewer trips, not more.
Need a new nozzle for the hose? Print it at home. How about a new doorknob? Print it at home. New picture frames, dry wall screws, chopsticks, sink drain stoppers, curtain hooks, hangers, dog tags, key rings, headphones — 3D printers will allow us to print them all at home. This technology will allow us to bypass the annoying economies of scale. Instead of having to purchase a bundle of 24 screws, we can just buy one.
Another reason printers will take over our homes is that they’re both fun and beautiful. Microsoft’s Steve Blank says 3D printers right now aren’t pretty enough to go mainstream, which is an ironic comment considering Microsoft’s bland, clunky designs.
The MakerBot Replicator 2 is sexy, Ultimakers are colorful and eye-catching and UP!’s Mini can hold its own next to a N’Espresso machine. As jet setting jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia said a few years back, his home stereo receiver is one of his favorite possessions. Not just the sound, but the way the sound display glows and bounces around, captivating guests at cocktail parties.
Personal printers will be similar. They’ll be indicators of expendable wealth, of unique style and proof that you have an ear to the pulse of innovation. MakerBots and Ultimakers will be in Jay-Z videos, on Rich Kids of Instagram and Hamptons parties won’t be complete without customized Champagne corks.
Personal manufacturing has the same allure as Web 2.0: It’s a social industry where we can create and bond at the same time. Businessweek’s Ashlee Vance tells the endearing anecdote of fathers and sons creating with the same casual vibe of playing catch. And that’s something you can’t do at Kinkos.
Greg is a pop up-building journalist with Openhouse, creators of the 3DEA Pop Up at the Eventi Hotel on 29th St. + 835 6th Ave. 3DEA is open Tuesday-Sunday until December 27 and counts Shapeways, Ultimaker, UP!, MAKE, New York’s Next Top Makers, ChallengePost and Fatboy as partners. Say hi at email@example.com.