A lot of people are saying that 3D printing has failed its potential, and that people are bored with it and it’s going away. I don’t necessarily hold with that. It has good potential as it matures over the next 5 to 10 years.
The next generation of 3D printers will use ‘pick and place’ technology. You take a resistor out of a bucket and place it in a circuit board, mix with 3D printing, then you can start making more electrical gadgets. You could buy various electronic gadgets online and fit them into the bracelet printed by the 3D printer.
Another thing you might be doing is making some Internet of Things gadget for your home, maybe an LED light holder. Or maybe you could buy a ribbon of all-purpose computer chips for your printer. Chips with built-in memory could recognise your voice, control your heating and do lots of other things. You can download the design for your gadgets from the net and make them look however you want.
In the kitchen, I think the real role for a 3D printer is not making a pizza but for more elaborate things, for example fancy wedding cakes, especially the intricate icing. You could make elaborate designs on a computer and print them out and put them on the cake. It may encourage a resurgence in home crafts.
3D printing will also change business. Say a business needs a replacement component or gadget. A 3D printer that costs about £20,000 can produce much more sophisticated materials, such as titanium.
The main use of 3D printing will be for replacement parts: for example, for washing machines and dishwasher that have an old, small component; or a 15-year-old boiler that companies stop supporting. If a 3D design of component still exists, you can download it from a boutique printer then print it. It’s much quicker than having to send off via post, which can take weeks.
Another example could be a car steering wheel. You may want a personalised grip. You could hold on to a gadget which can scan your grip and print a personalised steering wheel or a personalised golf club.
3D printing will also make it far easier for companies to make prototype products. Say an engineer designs something, such as gear wheels for a machine. The engineer will build a prototype to test it works. Traditional prototypes cost a fortune to make because each part of the product must be machined from scratch. Some prototypes can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds even if they sell in high street shops for a hundred pounds.
With 3D printing you will be able to try 10 different designs rather than just one. Engineers can experiment more.
A computer-controlled milling machine can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, sometimes millions. A 3D printer may cost up to hundreds of thousands of pounds – but it can still be good value for money.