Adoption of 3D Printing

Today’s 3D printing news is dominated by HP’s announcement that when they start producing 3D printers, theirs will be ever so much better (in other words: please don’t buy from our competitors until we have a chance to catch up):

Hewlett-Packard claims to have solved the two biggest problems with today’s 3D printers and will make its first big technology announcement in that area in June, CEO Meg Whitman said Wednesday.

3D printing has a number of issues, especially as they apply to the home/general market. Given the vast research and marketing resource of HP, what do they think are the top two problems with 3D printers:

There’s a lot of “buzz and hype” around 3D printing, but the systems available now have two big challenges, Whitman said at HP’s shareholder meeting. One is that they’re deathly slow. “It’s like watching ice melt,” she said.

The other, according to Whitman, is that the quality isn’t as good as it should be. “The surface of the substrate is not perfect,” she said.

As is always true, the ranking of “problems” is relative to one’s priorities. Since HP is clearly after wider adoption, I think their plan to differentiate themselves is taking the right tack. However, for early adopters I don’t think a lack of speed is a killer issue. Certainly everyone would enjoy a faster output but I think a more reliable, less glitchy printer (i.e. less shrinkage, fewer print errors due to material/printer) would be a higher priority.

I totally agree with HP on the importance of higher quality output. For lower-end printers to be considered “affordable,” they need to be considerably more accurate than what you could get 3D printing with a hot glue gun. I think equally important, for home adoption of 3D printing, would be the improved water resistance and food safety of the materials available for home use.

Speaking of improved materials, another news item I saw was about a new company called MadeSolid; who is focusing on improving 3D printer filament stock. One of their offerings is a material they call PET+. The advantages they claim to offer plastic extrusion printers is impressive:

It’s more flexible than PLA or ABS.
There’s very, very little shrinkage as the material prints. (Amongst other things, shrinkage makes it harder to keep the base of your 3D object from warping off of the build plate — once that happens, your entire print is generally completely wrecked.)
It’s recyclable
It’s heat resistant. You probably don’t want to expose it to flames on the regular (don’t make an oven mitt out of it) — but unlike ABS, it won’t immediately burst into flames, and unlike PLA, it won’t melt in a hot car.
It’s hydrophobic. Some materials (ABS, Nylon) need to be in air-tight containers when stored for long periods of time to avoid absorbing airborne water that’ll cause printer jams; PET+ doesn’t.
It’ll work with or without a heated build plate

Faster printers (more than one print head would be an obvious way to attack problem) and improved materials, should accelerate the adoption rate of 3D printers with the home/hobby market. Printing companies, like HP, love to keep a tight lock on the supplies utilized by their printers. Hopefully material companies, like MadeSolid, will help keep printer manufactures a bit more honest in their filament material offerings and pricing.

Sources: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2110182/hp-claims-its-solved-the-two-big-problems-with-3d-printing.html

(includes video from MadeSolid): http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/18/madesolid-is-creating-next-gen-3d-printing-materials/

MakeSolid website: http://www.madesolid.com/

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