3D printers are not a new invention anymore, and the rate at which the technology is maturing means that if there isn’t a 3D printer on the market you can afford yet, there soon will be. While they are now fairly established in their use for commercial prototyping and design work in all kinds of industries, from aviation to fashion design, the 3D printer as a piece of home technology is far from mainstream, and you’d probably still be quite surprised (or impressed) to find that a friend who had no professional need of one owned one, despite the fact that there are models available for as little as $500 – a sum you may have found perfectly acceptable for a home desktop 2D printer not so long ago.
So, 3D printers are become increasingly accessible for home users, but do the current incarnations offer enough to create a big enough market for these devices to become common fixtures in normal households?
Impressive, Yes – But Are They Useful?
Certainly, when 3D printer technology works like the replicators from Star Trek and allows you to quickly create all kinds of objects, you’d be mad not to want one. But at present, the most impressive thing the layman can do with a home 3D printer is just get it to print ‘something’. Certainly, the fact it works at all is cool when you see it on a YouTube video, but the novelty of that will soon wear off if you have no practical applications for it. Niche hobbyist markets may therefore be good places for the home 3D printer to find its feet with non-professional users. People who are into various types of crafting and DIY can almost certainly find ways to make use of the 3D printer’s capabilities, and will get enough out of it to find value in taking the time to learn how to use it, and the kind of design software it can work with, well.
A Price Point That Is Acceptable for a Frivolous Piece of Tech
3D printers are very useful, serious pieces of kit to some people, but just fun to play with for others. Much like robots, everybody likes the idea of playing about and experimenting with one, but only very niche professionals really need them. Until 3D printers reach a level of capability where they are useful to everyone for everyday things, much as 2D printers are, the average home consumer will only invest if the price is something they deem acceptable for a frivolous gadget (much as they might buy a remote control helicopter with a camera on it for fun at $200, but not at $1000).
Consumables and Maintenance
Another factor in whether the current style of home 3D printer will become mainstream is the cost of consumables and maintenance. People already bemoan the cost of ink and paper for their 2D printers, and obviously 3D printers use more expensive resources in greater quantities. Also, you may just swallow the cost of maintenance items like an HP fuser for your 2D printer, because you need that to work, but expensive parts for a 3D printer may be more of a source of resentment.
It will be interesting to see how receptive the home market is to 3D printing technology once the initial ‘wow’ factor has died off.