Shapeways, The Community

Do we even want desktop 3D printing?

There is a lot of hype currently about desktop 3D printing. A lot of people are saying that the dream is to be able to make anything with desktop 3D printers.

I love the entire “be able to make anything.” But, why “desktop 3D printing”? Why is the predefined form factor part of the dream?  

  • Is it because paper printers went from large expensive things to cheap desktop things? Are we stuck in this allegory?
  • Is it because when you’re making a 3D printer it is much easier to make one with a small build volume than a large build volume? Is it therefore because making a desktop 3D printer is so much more achievable than a larger one?
  • Is it because a cheap printer is important and so smaller ones are advantageous in this regard?
  • Is it because the Star Trek Replicators are desktop sized?
  • Is it because this is a good size for a consumer electronic device?
  • Is it because of the development of cell phones and other technologies that seem to indicate that small is more advanced?
  • Is it because making them this size would increase the adoption rate because more people could fit them in their homes easier?
  • Or is this desktop somehow in some other way important? Somehow crucial to the entire endeavor?

What am I missing?

My fridge is not desktop sized. My washing machine is not desktop sized. In fact my washing machine would be near useless if it were desktop sized and it could only wash two socks at a time. My dishwasher would be less efficient as a device and less useful to me if it were smaller. Bicycles & ovens would also suck as a smaller devices. I’m not saying that someone will not find a use for a tiny fridge or tiny oven: just that the most useful versions of these devices tend to not fit on your desktop.

We operate on a human scale and so the things we will print will be in this scale too. We make small things with 3D printing currently because big things are expensive. But, I totally want to make big things too: houses, couches, cars etc.. I want to be able to make anything. So why should the technological development of 3D printing be limited by a seemingly arbitrarily chosen form factor? Would “backpack portable” 3D printing or fridge sized 3d printing not be easier or better?

Creative Commons, Attribution Le Vent Le Cri.

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