10 Things I Learned From My 3D Printer: An Early Adopter’s Diary
“There Are Three Phases to Owning a 3D Printer
1. The Tchotchke phase. These are useless things that were fun to print that I could give as gifts to my kids. They go from ‘great!’ to ‘yawn’ in about an hour.
2. The Utilitarian phase. Items made from files from online libraries that would actually be used for something in our day-to-day lives. Hinge broken on our Coleman cooler? There’s a file I can download and print that will fix that, and I’ll look like Jonathan on the HGTV show Property Brothers—sans the perfect hair and plaid shirt.
3. The Designer phase. Things I would have to design from scratch, to make something that hasn’t previously existed in the known physical universe. …
3D Printing is a Big Time Commitment
Looking back, I can’t overstate the value of the useless-Yoda-head phase. A 3D printer isn’t like anything you’ve ever used before. The closest thing I can compare it to is the first laser-printers. Remember how the paper would jam all the time? Or how you had to shimmy-shake the toner cartridge to make an error message go away? That’s what it’s like owning a 3D printer.
Soon after getting one, you feel like Michael Bolton from Office Space: When something unexpected happens, you want to hit the printer with a baseball bat. But after a while you become more like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, confidently standing on the rock, deftly nailing fish with a metaphorical filament spear. By the eight-to-10-month mark, you ‘know’ your printer. You know what it can and can’t do. You know what the procedure is for ‘all things awful.’ You think you could write the manual that would probably shorten someone’s learning curve to four weeks.
And then something truly wonderful happens: You realize you can make things no one has thought of yet. …
Pretty soon, these communities become bigger than you. I’ve just joined a global group called eNABLE, in which people print prosthetic hands for children. This is the point where you realize you’re like one of those first people who had a cell phone or a website. … Any technology that has historically brought us closer together seems to flourish and last and grow exponentially. It becomes ‘sticky.’ This is happening for me, with touch points across the hall and across the world as a result.”