Why 3D printers are useless for business

By: John McGarvey

Date: 1 May 2014

Why 3D printers are useless for business/3D printer{{}}3D printers are coming, and they’re going to change the world. Shops will soon be printing products to order. Garages will print parts for your car on the spot. And instead of cooking dinner, you’ll just print it out.

Well, one day all those things might be true. But right now, 3D printers are nothing more than novelty items. They’re ok at printing plastic trinkets and ornaments, but not so good at creating practical items.

Printing a plastic mess

We’ve been as guilty as anyone of hyping 3D printers as the next big thing. And yes, there’s potential. The problem is that the technology — especially the affordable 3D printers you can buy today — is way off achieving that potential.

While forward-looking articles talk excitedly about printing bicycles, houses and even human organs, people who actually own 3D printers seem to have mixed results, to say the least.

You only need to take a look at the art of 3D print failure, a Flickr group containing hundreds of photos of 3D printing gone wrong.

Some of the warped plastic shapes are impressive. But they demonstrate that the technology — at least at the affordable end of the market — is more for hobbyists than businesses.

The drawbacks of 3D printers

3D printers available today don’t just suffer from questionable reliability. They also tend to be slow. It can take hours to print relatively simple objects.

What’s more, the raw plastic is expensive. You’ll also need to know how to use relatively complex software in order to design the objects you’re going to print.

So, if tempted to pick up a 3D printer for your business, keep your expectations realistic. You won’t be buying a tool that’s going to revolutionise your company or make your life easier.

You’ll basically be buying a toy. 3D printers are indisputably fun to play with and have a curiosity value to them. But they’re not serious business tools. Not yet, at least.

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