It all started with a Saab cup holder

By John Brandon via   Article

4 Important Lessons You Can Learn Now That 3D Printing is Dying

” I happen to own a 2004 model, a family car with a turbo (don’t ask). Way back in December, before everyone started wondering if 3-D printing was on the deadpool, I tested out a MakerBot Replicator Mini for a few weeks. It was a heady time printing out Darth Vadar replicas from Thingiverse and experimenting with my own concoctions. Then, I tried to print something I actually needed, something that would save me a few hundred dollars or a trip to the junkyard.

As my dad used to say, that’s when I noticed there was trouble with a capital T.

As recently as May 2015, 3-D printing was championed as a savior of all things. Last Friday, Newsweek magazine finally broke the ice. Maybe that should be: It shattered the ice, squished it into the ground, and sprayed it off the showroom floor with a hose. MakerBot recently whittled down its work force and the stock price of parent company Stratasys has plummeted. It’s like someone sucked all of the momentum out of the maker industry and pulled the plug, then bought a new plastic plug at Walmart.

What happened? I often think of that Saab part as a good model of what went wrong. (By the way, I promise not to use any metaphors for 3-D printing from now on.) For starters, I really wanted to print the cup holder. I even asked a well-known Thingiverse designer for help, and was going to pay him, but he said the part was too complex. Wait, what? Too complex for a well-known designer? He even used the word ‘hassle’ in his email back to me. The part is not something you’d use on a NASA spaceship. It does have a spring attached to two pieces of plastic that fold together.

What about a water bottle cage for my bike? Shouldn’t be a big problem. There are plenty of designs. But when I actually printed one of them, it broke on my first ride. Also, a much more important piece of data: A water bottle cage costs about $4 at but even a relatively short spool of filament costs $65. The math doesn’t compute. And, it doesn’t make sense to spend the time.

From that experience, I knew something was wrong. As the Newsweek article notes, you can print only so many Yoda heads before you wonder why you bought the device. A 3-D printer won’t magically terraform anything right before your eyes, and it even has problems with slightly complex car parts. I even remember my nephew, who is working as an intern for me this year, saying the industry needs to figure out this problem. It’s fun for a while, but eventually you realize you need to do something practical after paying almost $1,000 for the product.”


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