3D Printing is expanding, but can it grow into something bigger than just the technology for professionals?
There has been an interesting event to all 3D printing amateurs that was held by PaliProto 3D printing and scanning on April 30, 2015. It was opening of their 3D Printing and Scanning Center in COBB County of Atlanta Metro Area, Georgia. It’s always interesting to see how new ideas are born and then embodied in something really fascinating. That was the case of PaliProto 3D “Brick and Mortar” Center Opening event that brought together people engaged in 3D printing.
Those who were interested in trying to print their own models could bring their STL file to print their own projects on Objet30, 3D Systems CubePro and CubePro Duo, Taz 4 and Zortrax M200 3D printers free of charge. So that was an excellent possibility for everybody to come and try 3D printing technology, touch it and then decide if it is for them or not.
We have had a great opportunity to meet there with a lot of interesting people and have fun in trying different printers. One of the founders of this place, Stan Sliwinski or Kuba,like everybody else calls him here, was pleased to share his thoughts about 3D printing trends as well as talk about his personal journey in this industry.
– There is lot going on in 3D printing industry. What are your thoughts about 3d printing technologies in nearest future?
It is likely that for the last several years you’ve been noticing talk about 3D printing. Topics such as 3D printed models, household objects, medical parts, even houses and cars and 3D printing in space keep popping up in popular media. These projects and technologies are quite amazing and herald a new era of personal and personalized manufacturing. There are now a wide range of service centers and web vendors offering 3D printing from almost any material and of any object the end consumer could want. There are thousands of thousands of 3D creations and files available on the web.
By their nature, as always, media outlets need to focus on large or flashy stories as this stokes their audience’s imagination. Often the focus turns to specialized and high profile 3D projects like experimental medical implementations or 3D printed food. Yet, a large part of this new industrial revolution is happening in the calm every day waters; small studios, garages, home offices, co-ops, and start-ups spearheaded by 3D evangelists, makers, designers, and other creatives are busy and often quietly pushing the envelope of 3D technologies.
I want to be clear here, 3D printing technology, otherwise known as Rapid Manufacturing or Rapid Prototyping, has existed since the late 1980’s and has been used by large manufacturers and industry leaders around the world. What the reader needs to appreciate about the current state of 3D technologies is that since circa 2012 an explosion of the so-called “office” or “home” 3D devices has been occurring. These devices, sometimes incorporating scanners and even computer numerical control (CNC) machines, have been marketed as “easy to use” “soon to become household items” “with seamless workflows” and that “they will take space beside the computer and coffee maker at every house.”
Often there is nothing further from the truth. Welcome to the current hype bubble around 3D printing. Remember when the first, truly photographic quality printers were introduced by Epson and HP? Pundits proclaimed that every house will soon have one, forecasted doom and gloom for photography studios and print services now that consumers would shoot and print all their photos, books, cards, posters from home. In the end, many companies did fold, but mainly due to poor customer service. Yet others, adjusted to the new market and still more companies, and even entire industries, were created. Those who saw the coming changes ran with them.
As technology changed, some photographers closed their shops while others embraced the new technologies, services, tools, and equipment into their offerings. New technologies and consumer streams emerged (kiosks, digital / web service centers, online publishing etc.) which continue to fulfill the demands of the average consumer even while the cost of your run-of-the-mill desktop photo printers drops.
The reality is, when a consumer wants something professionally, timelessly, or uniquely captured and/or printed, they will use a service provider. From my own experience, 2 out of 10 photography friends bought high-quality photography printers but the rest use service providers for most jobs. Years later, these high quality professional units are still expensive and are available on the current market for $2,900.00 to $20,000.00. It’s true, that you can buy inexpensive photo printers but the quality, photo longevity, and material cost all lack in professional quality, making them impractical for serious photo hobbyist or professional. And furthermore, not everyone wants to deal with the hassle of a professional printer.
Despite the prediction, “a professional quality photography printer in every household”, let alone every business, is still not the reality. However, and this is the catch, there never was a need for this reality. Most consumers are satisfied with a general photo printer for snapshots but even now, with the prevalence of camera phones and cheap tools, will still seek out professional services for important and specific printed jobs.
And what is your forecast for 2015 and 2016 coming year? Shall we expect any breakthrough in mass adoration of 3d printers or is that the matter of longer period of time?
Anyone who has used the current crop of consumer 3D printers is familiar with the following facts: prints can take forever, parts are often mechanically weak, alignment and slicing is crucial to part integrity, there is often a lot of material waste, the machines can be finicky and require babysitting, material choices for home use are limited, a mixed bag of skills are required to get repeatable and complex results.
Below are the reasons I find it unlikely that mass adoption of consumer 3D printers will happen in 2015 or even 2016. Please note: I am not referring to industrial and commercial usage of Rapid Manufacturing machines and technology and I’m not referring to semi-professional printers used by artist or design studios. I’m referring to claims that in-home/home office 3D printing will drastically change everyday life for a majority of small and medium business or even your average household. The main reasons are:
- The number so call home use printers being invented (the last count is easily >120, and with new models being announced monthly) it is a very confusing landscape composed of often difficult to differentiate clones.
- 3D printing requires a number of mechanical steps, repeated over and over again in a layer-by-layer approach. As such the printing time is still too long for most consumers to sit through or babysit the machine through. (From an hour for small objects to 8-24 hrs. for larger complex pieces).
- The skills required to be able to produce useful finished 3D prints generally requires an interdisciplinary approach; as such there is often a real education gap in one or more steps of the process.
- The knowledge and skills required for using still complex 3D software in preparation for 3D printing is also difficult to find. This is a major education gap that even industry leaders acknowledge by addressing it with Free and Open Software initiatives, user interface changes, simplified workflows, and educational campaigns. This gap will still take time to close.
- Hardware and settings require constant tweaking and adjusting – for those familiar with CNC machines or mechanical and electronic projects these are easy and often enjoyable tasks but for the general public who just “wants it to work”, not so much.
- Print failure rates can be very high leading to consumer frustration and dissatisfaction. This contributes to what is generally known as the “trough of disillusionment” in the Gartner “Technology Hype Cycle.”
- Vendors (with the few exceptions of the likes of 3D Systems) still see their products as part of a hardware production cycle rather than visualizing 3D printing and personal manufacturing in the light of a growing cultural shift.
Don’t take me wrong I’m 3D printing evangelist and strong believer, but I’m also realist and see my responsibilities to help separate hype from objectivity. And the most important to those who say I need a 3D printer, the question is what are your 3D plans, how much time can you devote to maintain it, are you patient to tweak and setup machines; and the most important what you will really use it for? If you can answer those questions, please, go ahead and buy a printer, but don’t complain later that they are junk. Each printer is doing more or less what was designed for, not what expectation public had.
– There are so many types of 3D printers nowadays. Based on your personal opinion what type of 3d printers would be most popular in, let’s say, 10 years.
My personal opinion is that the slow FDM printers will reach their speed and quality technical and design limit soon. Public will be tired of the multiple clones and variations with same characteristic of being slow, clumsy and finicky. I see the current hype fading and FDM printing technology receiving beatings and multiple “black eyes”. On the other hand, prices for Stereolithography will be going down and new printers will emerge quickly. I see future in this technology as the dominant technology in 10 years. In addition I believe that the companies like HP, Dell, Brother and many other giants will jump into 3D printers to create multi nozzles, full color higher end printers, comparable to the high end photographic printers made today by Canon or Epson. Off course they will kill us by pricing cartridges. Maybe even I will see in my life affordable metal sintering 3D printer, ceramic and other exotic materials ones.
– Do you think if 3d printers would become so popular as ordinary inkjet printers nowadays?
No, and they don’t have reason to take the same place like regular printers today. These are specialized devices like CNC, Laser or other machines used in hobbyist households today. I gave an example of the hype related to specialized high end $3,000.00$ – $10,000.00 photo printers. How many households are using them today? With 3D printers do you really believe that my wife or yours will print pizza or other food for dinner using 3D printer? Or regular guy will print replacement parts for his failing refrigerator? Hobbyist will do, public at large not, and there is no good reason that they should. We are also seeing a fatigue in the 3D world due to technological immaturity, hardware and consumable quality, and set-up and configuration complexity. All of which impacts achievable repeatable results with the so called “home devices.” I explained my position answering other question above. Many users embraced 3D printing on a wave of generated hype to later find that they needed to be a hybrid jack-of-all trades to get close to consistent results. One needs to be a combination of artist, mechanical engineer, IT professional, dreamer, and tinkerer to be fully satisfied with the results in this field.
These setbacks can be summarized as follows: home 3D printing has and will keep struggling to deliver on its promise to transform individual manufacturing at the consumer level.
There is one area, maybe I will surprise you here, when I can see growth. It is type of the printers 3D System is bringing to the table in cooperation with artist, designers and companies like Disney and Crayola. The first model Cube3 can be treated as the predecessor of something larger, socially and art driven tool for creative minds. It is easy to imagine 7 or 10 years old kids designing his creature using coloring software, transforming to 3D file using intuitive software and firing printer, by pushing button. If we can connect it to 3D sculpture software, now we can predict impact on the next generation of our kids. Think about computer Games impact first on kids and later on the real life. I believe that such approach will win, not a multiple kick starters of the new, unreliable devices. We need to look at completeness and social fabric of 3D technology.
– Give us a brief overview of services you provide
At PaliProto we have spent a year analyzing where the 3D market is going. We saw the potential but wanted to separate the 3D hype from reality. We needed to answer the question “What is the real future in this technology scape?” In our journey we found a large amount of hype, yes, hype described above. Even at trade shows and industry events level headed and sober industry insiders would talk openly about the dangers of this hype. And there is a lot of hype. This isn’t meant to downplay or disparage the industry in any way. Hype exists when there is excitement and there is genuinely a lot to be excited about! Hype is also a good indicator of a technology that can be highly transformative. It is hype that’s similar to what occurs around other technologies like Big Data, Cloud, the “internet of things”, Genomics, Bioinformatics, Immersive Technologies, and Alternative Energy etc. While the excitement is indeed real the other reality is that home and small business 3D printing is currently considered by industry analysts to be at the peak of the Hype-Curve.
What we are seeing is a very distinct separation of 3D technologies into significantly different verticals where we can classify them by usage and impact on the specific fields
However, it’s not all failure, these personal manufacturing technologies work very well when combined with a varied team of passionate people who enjoy interacting with the 3D technologies and exploring these cultural impacts. These technologies, as they stand, combine well with our social nature while leveraging how we, as people, interact with unique objects that enable an explosion of creativity and variety in our lives.
At PaliProto it is critical to make 3D technology available and understandable to businesses engaged in building and designing our world of “things”. In our minds we believe in and will focus on the social and collaborative aspect of 3D technology and rapid prototyping to help businesses and independent creators achieve their goals. From idea to creation through education to the emergence of a final product – we at PaliProto will be a unique combination of web services married to a community based brick and mortar Discovery Center. A place where children, parents, seniors, geeks, students, professionals, and everyone in-between will have chance to touch, create, invent, and print their ideas. We will cater to “Creative Minds” if I can use this phrase.
The uniqueness of our center and endeavor hinges on these functional elements:
- 3D scanning setup similar to a professional photo studio that will be able to provide a broad gamut of scanning services:
- Small objects
- Art / historical objects
- Expensive heirlooms for security/insurance reasons
- Car / machine parts
- Animals / pets
- People, including small (2-5) groups
- 3D printers available for families to come and print their creations, with special emphasis on little ones..
- “Kiddy Corner” equipped with 3D Systems Cube® 3 printers to bring to life childhood creations.
- 3D kids friendly software to manipulate their 3D models.
- Professional work stations equipped with various levels of 3D software and memory / graphics cards available for onsite rental and use.
- 2 fully equipped in 3D software professional workstations: Windows and MAC
- Technical staff to help in 3D drawings and files slicing
- 3D professional printers (Stratasys Objet30 Prime, EnvisionTec high end printers) capable of printing industrial quality models and prototypes.
- Education / presentation space, capable of accommodating up to 20 people comfortably.
- Several public printers available for use including the TAZ 4, MakerBot 2X, CubePro®, Zortrax M200
- Service center to help with printer implementations at your home or small business.
- 3D Systems (CubePro®) and Zortrax printers in our demo area available for testing.
- Mechanical reverse engineering available using SpaceClaim and other software 3D software
-What is your vision of this place? What features of this 3D Center allows to stand out from other 3D printing centers like yours?
In our view, our 3D Center is a place for social interaction and discovery between people and machines. It is meant to be part of a process that frees us from the everyday and cookie cutter objects, enabling us to be more creative. We aim to create a venue for families to come and work alongside engineers or architects. We will also offer direct print ordering over the internet through our relationship with 3D Hubs or orders placed directly on our website. We see ourselves filling a niche between large 3D service providers like Shapeways, Sculpteo or i.materialise and 3D printer sales and retail shops. We are planning to organize birthday parties with printing something special, after school classes and open houses to review special printers, scanners or test materials.
In our research we have found that one of the most profound and most successful trends emerging since 2014 is how 3D printing is changing our everyday consumer products alongside rapid prototyping.
– What 3d printers do you have in your possession at the Center?
Currently we have: Stratasys Objet30 Prime, couple of Zortrax M200 FDM printers (by the way they are the most amazing FDM printers I was working with), Taz4, Couple of CubePro (single and dual heads), couple of Cube3, MakerBot 2x. In the next few weeks we will receive MarkForg3D and couple of EnvisionTec printers. Besides printers we have 3D scanners.
– Can you please tell us how you did become with an idea to open such a place?
I was looking into 3D printing services for long time. I have more than 32 years of experience in the technology, events management and photographic industry. I spent 22+ years designing, implementing and executing Technology for such events like Winter Games and Summer Olympiads. I was always fascinated by 3D explosion and did follow 3D printing industry growth and rapid changes since my first encounter with industrial 3D printer in late 1980’s. First, I was following it as a hobby, and in 2013 I started drawing initial plans for 3D Printing and Scanning enterprise in Atlanta area. I was not able to execute those plans, as I was still committed to the wellbeing of my then employer. However, in 2014 I decided to retire from my employer and to focus 100% on my new endeavor. This is when PaliProto was born. I did a lot off real model building based on 3D CAD drawings during my Olympic tenure and always wanted to have ability to print model, not to glue them.
– Please tell us more about Olympics part. What experience did you gain over there?
My 3D CAD experience are going back to 1985 when we had the first Dassault Systems 3D CAD (Catia) station to design Olympic venues. We used 3D drawings to build models of the venues to position TV Commentators booth visa vie sun or Scoreboard to be most visible by public and TV during the event, regardless of the time of day. I had experience on the industrial side of 3D through visiting such companies like Lockheed Martin, Airbus or Renault. In 2009 – 2012 I was surprised, like many other people, how quickly 3D printing was exploding. My practical work with 3D printers started late 2013 with MakerBot.
– What can you advise to people who just started exploring 3d printing world
I’m not sure that I’m in position to advise anyone who wants to explore 3D. I know that they will do whatever they want to do. It is addictive. But if you are asking, I will encourage exploring it first, initially through places like ours, I believe that there will be more and more centers like mine and we are welcoming explorers. Then, when you know what you want, when one have clear plan how the printer will change his life for good, not to be miserable – jump and enjoy this amazing technology. Look at the different printers, their characteristic, ease of use, maintenance, type of the material. You have to remember that what is cheap is not always good, but if it is expensive, it can turn into expensive junk too. The most important patience and understanding that you are buying early automobile and you need to have skills to run it.
Amazing compact technology