So, I've been asking myself, is 3D printing going to stick? Is it just for digital artists, those who know how to work with 3D software and understand how to think in polygons? Is it just for the manufacturing industry or architects? Where does it fit? Who is it for? I've come the conclusion that it's going to become very important and will disrupt the world in many ways. Per Richard D'Aveni in the Harvard Business Review
And yet, by enabling a machine to produce objects of any shape, on the spot and as needed, 3-D printing really is ushering in a new era.Signe Brewster in a recent Gigaom article says,
It’s pretty easy to imagine a future where almost anything you would ever want to print has already been created and is accessible by a quick online search.For me, the decision to get deeper into object printing, as I'll call it, came with an epiphany as I thought about my own experiences in technology. So, first the story and then the epiphany! Stay with me.
Back in 1984, I was in high school and an aspiring programmer. I had purchased a Commodore Vic20 with my lawn mowing money and connected it up to a small black and white TV. It was here that I first learned to program, working with media and very simple graphics. Now, my dad wanted to write a curriculum of Biblical Greek for high school students and teach it, so I whipped up a simple word processor that recoded the display to show greek characters, having mapped them to the certain keys on the keyboard. It worked well enough, but had a couple of limitations, the main one being that we couldn't print the content. Back then, printing was done via a daisy wheel. You just sent the character and it typed it for you. We looked at having a greek daisy wheel manufactured, but it was prohibitively expensive, so I stopped the project.
Along comes March 1984 Popular Science (read it here) with an article about a new computer being released called an Apple Macintosh (page 99). The computer, of course, was very exciting and, yep, I wanted one! How to get one though? It was expensive! Then I learned about the printing. Along with the Mac, came the ImageWriter printer. The dot matrix technology had been around, but with this one, the computer controlled the print head allowing it to print anything the computer could send it. I knew this was the answer - surely, it could print greek! I convinced dad to go to a local store and look at one. He was astute and had run his business with a computer for some time. He believed in them, so that made it easier. I told him that I thought this could solve the greek problem. Once we talked to the sales people, he was sold and bought that first Mac with an ImageWriter. Within 3 months, there was a greek font he bought and was off and writing.
After the ImageWriter was the LaserWriter. Kinkos came out with computers and LaserWriters waiting to allow you to come and print what you needed. WYSIWYG printing was starting to be embraced by the masses. It was a few years before people had all of this in their homes. It's commonplace now and we take it for granted. There's the epiphany - where we are today with 3D printers is similar to where were were around 1984. The printing and technology works, but it's not quite ready for everyone. At the same time, its growth and future is unmistakable. Object printing shops (the Kinko's of 3D printing) are beginning to pop up all around the country. It's only a matter of time before these printers are as prevalent or nearly as prevalent as the paper printers of today. They may not be in every household, but most will likely need or want access to printing objects.
Back to the story for a moment. Thanks to my dad, his vision, and the availability of the Macintosh system, I had access to technology that gave me a "leg up" in the tech world. I used that computer all the time and learned about being productive on a computer in a way to be relevant in the business world. Concepts learned related to writing, graphics, analytics, programming, and printing with a computer enabled me to get started and thrive in the modern world.
This experience and my view of the future of object printing has led me to step into this new space and invest in object printing. It's really to invest in my children to provide for them exposure to the new world that's coming. Ok, that may be a bit of a hyperbole, but early experience with the hardware and software may provide, for them, a "leg up" in a world that will soon be changed by designing and printing objects in your home.