Guest post: Five Signs That 2013 Will Be The Year of 3D Printing

3dprinter

The beautiful thing about technology is that it’s ever-evolving; a technology that seemed groundbreaking 15 years ago can seem completely obsolete in the present day while there are literally hundreds of new technologies to get excited about everyday – although there’s no news on hoverboards yet.

Like hoverboards, some of these technologies never quite see the light of day but some breakthrough and become something that we couldn’t imagine living our lives without; think smartphones, computers and so on.

One of the technologies many are predicting will join the hallowed ranks of such essential innovations as the iPhone in 2013 is the 3D printer. Although 3D printer technology has been around for decades, the past four years or so have seen a massive acceleration in the applications and complexity of the technology. Most importantly, it has also seen the technology moving closer to home use than ever.

But it’s easy to make unsubstantiated statements about what the ‘next big thing’ is, so we’ve compiled a few signs that suggest 3D printing may just break into the mainstream in 2013.

3D Printer Shops

A big sign of anything going mainstream is when it hits the high street and 2012 saw the shop debut of 3D printers, with Makerbot opening their flagship store in New York City. Okay, so new models didn’t exactly fly off the shelves – and at £1360 a time, who would expect them to? – but it did provide MakerBot a chance to demonstrate and showcase the technology to a whole new set of potential customers.

Staples Offer 3D Printing Services

Really, really want to print a 3D model but can’t afford your own printer? Staples have got the answer – if you live in the Netherlands or Belgium. Starting this year, the office supplies store will be offering 3D printing services in association with Mcor Industries. Selected stores will have their very own Mcor IRIS 3D machines, which uniquely use paper rather than plastic.

A quick word of warning, however – you’ll need CAD design skills before you can print anything. Staples require any print data to be supplied in STL, OBJ, or VRML formats, meaning the average Joe wanting to print out a new set of golf clubs might have to wait a little longer.

Copyright Legislation

Determined not to get blindsided by the kind of massive copyright issues the internet brought forth for the entertainment industry, a patent has already been approved for a method of stopping would-be pirates producing copyrighted goods. While this isn’t necessarily good news for those who were looking to print absolutely everything they need at home, it is a sign that the powers-that-be are taking 3D printing – and the possibility of using the technology for home piracy – very seriously.

Falling Prices

As we’ve already mentioned, 3D printers are expensive pieces of equipment which is a major barrier between the technology and the mainstream. However, 3D printers are getting cheaper, with Printrbot offering a model that costs just $549 (£336).

Like inkjet printers, however, the quality of cheap printers can vary dramatically in comparison to top end machines. It’s also important to remember that, like ink cartridges, keeping your 3D printer well supplied can be costly too.

3D Print…Everything

What ultimately drives the popularity of a technology is, of course, demand. 3D printer makers probably won’t need to worry on that front as it seems like not a day goes by without a news outlet getting excited by a new use for 3D printers. Don’t believe us? Do a quick search for ‘3D printers’ on your preferred news website and see how many articles come up!

So, while we don’t quite want to go out on a limb and say you’ll have a 3D printer in your house by December 2013, we can probably expect 3D printing to get closer to the mainstream than ever.