3D Printing the Next Five Years by Prof. Joshua Pearce

Joshua Pearce | 3D Printing Industry | March 20, 2017

3-D printing should have been here 20 years ago. If my generation had had access to 3-D printers in high school, we would be technical wizards by now. Unfortunately, 3-D printing was locked away by patents, which effectively limited access to rapid prototyping to large corporate R&D centers. I am sure the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in those early machines paid dividends, but they barely scratched the surface of the potential of additive manufacturing. As readers of 3-D Printing Industry know, we are finally starting to see the potential now.

Joshua PearceAlthough 3-D printing is actually old technology, it did not really start to take off until the open source RepRap (self licating id prototyper) 3-D printer was created in the wake of the expiration of patents on fused filament printing. The open source ethos led to an explosion of innovation and drove a precipitous drop in 3-D printer prices. This made it clear if we want to really foster innovation, “intellectual property” law needs to be significantly weakened or maybe completely discarded as an antiquated theory. The $20,000 unreliable refrigerator sized 3-D printer of yesteryear was replaced by a technically superior product (faster print speeds, more materials, higher reliability, etc.) that could fit on your desk for about $2,000.

Enter the hype cycle. News organizations fumbled press releases leading to confusion about 3-D printing in the public mind. “Why can’t my desktop printer print a beating heart? Or a space rocket? Or a cup of Earl Grey tea in 10 seconds? TV and Facebook just told me 3-D printers could do that now!” Such unrealistic expectations and the resultant disappointment with low-resolution plastic knick-knacks dampened the enthusiasm of some consumers for 3-D printing...