Will the next decade see a 3D printer boom?
The hype around 3D printing is huge, especially when it comes to stories such as that of orthopaedic surgeon Craig Gerrand, who printed a pelvis for a patient. But will 3D printers be commonplace in the average office?
I’m not talking common in manufacturing companies that need to print and test prototypes. Not businesses involved in high-end research and design. Just the thousands of regular offices across the UK – will they have a printer? I think so, but not in the way futurists might predict.
Generally, for a product to become commonplace it has to be reliable, inexpensive and use technology that’s been ‘perfected’ to some degree; before these criteria are met, it’s the domain of early adopters. By the time 3D printers are mass market, I think they’ll be essential for some people and a back up for everyone else.
If you’re a plumber or electrician, the ability to print components before (or even on) a job is going to make your life a lot easier. If you’re in a warehouse or factory, I can see 3D printers being useful. Maybe also in retail if you want to do a test run of products. Now perhaps I’m lacking imagination, but I don’t think the average office will have the same need.
I think we’ll have reasonably priced, non-specialist, 3D printers on hand for occasional use. Maybe we’ll print desktop stationery, replacing sticky tape dispensers or penholders. But these aren’t needed regularly or in major quantities. And if you need to print on an industrial level, wouldn’t it still be cheaper to go to a specialist?
I suspect 3D printers will rebalance, but not replace, economies of scale.
What do you think the future of 3D printers will be in the office?