3D Printers: toy or tool? What do you think?

3D Printers: toy or tool? What do you think? Is it as simple as that? Can’t a tool be a toy and vice versa?


Personal computers were also a toy for many years. It will take some time, but desktop 3D printers will be as common as 2D printers are today.

But people still don’t do professional work on 2D printers. 3D printers probably won’t be commonplace, and the professional printers will still cost quite a bit, but they’ll come down enough for hackerspaces to own them. (Laser sintering machines most likely)

Yup, real fuzzy line between toy and tool, when someone figures out how to print with fiber reinforced plastics then it will be a real tool. I keep looking at concept to object tools and if I had to buy today it would be a cnc router as it would be far more versatile in the materials I could use.

An FDM machine will never make a part as strong as an injection moulded fiber reinforced part…simply because the fibers wont lock the noodles between the layers. The nylon copolymer is a good start though. To me it’s a tool that can be used to make toys, gadgets and replacement parts. If I can get some good 10 - round AK mags out of it it’ll be a printing press.

3d printers will be toys for home use for some time,… slowly turning into tools, as the database of what can be made with them grows, and they become more reliable… while professional printers will be in every shop that has the potential to make or modify what it sells or provides. Professional printers will drop dramatically in price, and will suddenly be everywhere, but they will require training and tools, much more than just the printer.

It really boils down to number of steps to finished product. the home use models really do not have the resolution or versatility to match what the multi-stage machines can provide, and no one wants a printer that requires an entire shop to really shine, unless of course that’s what they were after to begin with.

Ours has been a tool since the moment we got it. We print some toys, but 90% of what it does is either for money or providing custom parts/prototyping for functional equipment. Two years after purchase, and it’s been running an average of four hours a day that entire time.

That’s great, @John_Bump … what kinds of things do you manufacture? The funny thing is that Mr. Dougherty suggests industrial machines are more reliable, and they are just not. Our Stratasys in the Industrial Design dept is out of commission as least as often as our copier. The large service bureau here in Denver doesn’t even provide FDM service using SLS, SLA, or polyjet instead because of the reliability of the tech (and the quality).

With that said, I think personal 3d printing is going to be an invaluable tool at the same time as being a fun toy. I believe in the technology in regards to small scale manufacturing and its use in iterative design. As @Hod_Lipson proposes in Fabricated, the idea of using personal 3d printers in education to provide alternative methods of representing an idea or concept in real, tangible terms is going to be a crucial tool in learning.

For as forward thinking as Mr Dougherty is, I feel this article is a bit short sighted and indeed reminiscent of Thomas Watson’s famous quote, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

It will pick up use in a local Kinkos making people want to have one of their own. There people will print a well known knickknack after which they will start chatting with a technician and getting to know more about the printer.

Establish printing shops with an opportunity to buy one.

Just my humble opinion, I think there will be a lot more development, both commercial and open source in these printers until it reaches a tipping point that the printers will be affordable and can be run by someone with zero troubleshooting skills, and then they will show up for commercial ‘rental’ or use (on a large scale).

I see a large barrier being the creation of the actual 3D objects. Everyone talks about ‘oh Joe Schmoe will run down to the print shop and run off 12 copies of their newest creation, it’ll be awesome! YEah! 3d print high five bro!’ but if Joe can’t actually create that then how in the heck is that going to happen?

The 3D creation tools, even the ‘easy ones’ are useless for most people that aren’t really into this stuff. Perhaps developers should fork off of the 3D printer path and work on the 3D design path a bit. But how do you make 3D design available to the common man or woman, or the person who doesn’t have 3D design skills?

Yes even easy 3d software is a bear to get started with, although the same thing was said of photoshop and pagemaker (or quarkxpress ) back in the day of early desktop publishing. Now high school kids know that stuff like its a word processor.

I do agree that there is still a huge software problem however I think its with the toolchain: pronterface, slic3r, and repetier are still just too damn difficult. Keeping with the DP metaphor, I seem to remember some early postscript printer drivers looking something like early versions of slic3r.

Perhaps a smartphone app or a game like interface to build simple 3D objects would be a good start :wink: Something goal oriented like ‘Build Princess RepRap’s castle using these special blocks which give it different features and if you like it, take it to your local 3D printer to get a real version!’

full color we got now… 2k… well, not so much

“The ZPrinter 650 is engineered specifically to satisfy the most … for a United States manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $59,900 USD.” http://www.zcorp.com/en/Press-Room/Z-Corporation-Unveils-Best-in-Class-Color-3D-Printer-for-Demandi/news.aspx