3D Printing: Thoughts From Around the Industry
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on September 27th, 2013
It’s funny. When I post things, I never know what’s going to take off in terms of interaction and comments. I didn’t think Tuesday’s post on 3D printing would be one of them. I was wrong.
Not only have there been a nearly record number of comments on Digital Nirvana, but I shared in a variety of LinkedIn boards, as well. There, too, it caught on in a way that surprised me.
Here are some nutshells of what I’ve heard:
1. Despite the high volume of blog posts, trade magazine articles, Webinars, seminars, and other industry chatter about this process, there have only been two printing locations that were identified as actually owning 3D printers. Both are in the world of packaging.
2. There are lots of opportunities for product development in this market, but currently, it mainly consists of pioneers doing one-off projects.
3. There are those in this industry who want to call this process “printing.” Their reasoning largely — not always, but largely — revolves around its ability to create visibility and position perception for the printing industry.
I’m not sure this is a good thing. Although printing is technically considered “manufacturing” according to the U.S. Census, the general consensus is that the term carries a connotation that isn’t accurately represented by 3D printing as an additive manufacturing process. (As it was pointed out — and I agree — Scodix, lenticular, and printing on 3D objects like golf balls would be more accurately described this way.)
Giving a process an inaccurate label, even in the name of promoting and supporting the overall health the printing industry, creates confusion and distraction. Better, in my mind, to give it an accurate label that properly focuses people on the opportunities for what they truly are.
4. If there are terms that more accurately describe 3D printing, they would be “additive manufacturing” (although is one-off manufacturing really manufacturing? that’s a whole other debate) or “rapid prototyping.” One person also suggested “3D modeling.”
My favorite quote in the whole discussion comes from Erik Nikkanen, printing theory and technology development (Toronto, Canada), who said, “It is not printing unless one takes the 3D object and puts it in a hydraulic press so it can be glued to paper.”
Let’s keep the discussion going and see what else continues to shake out.