Oops-Ed: TechCrunch Writer Says Consumers Don’t Need 3D Printers
In the early 1980s, Bill Gates was widely known to say “640K is more memory than anyone will ever need on a computer.” This famous quote seems laughable today as your standard home computer, tablet and phone are equipped with gigabytes of memory.
Well, today TechCrunch writer Jon Evans makes a similarly myopic claim about the 3D printer market, “There is no reason for any individual to have a 3D printer in their home.” We are sure Evans would love being compared to Gates, but let’s look more closely at his argument.
3D printing will be a serious threat to manufacturing as we know it. But not at home. That doesn’t make sense. Instead, we’ll have two kinds of communal 3D printer shops.
In high-infrastructure areas, there’ll be a clutch of online providers a la Stratasys (and I expect one of them to be Amazon.com): you’ll pick your 3D design from a huge online menu, send them size information and maybe a few photos from some kind of cunningly designed app, tweak the 3D preview until you’re happy, and they’ll print it out in some vast warehouse full of high-end high-speed 3D printers and ship it to you, possibly that same day.
In low-infrastructure areas, or if you’re a casual hobbyist, or if you have very specific requirements, you’ll head down the road to your nearest local printing facility. Depending on where you are, maybe this is tomorrow’s TechShop, maybe it’s a cluster of converted shipping containers on the outskirts of Uganda each with their own specialties and strengths. They’ll customize your order, render it in the cloud as needed, print it out, and tweak and iterate until it’s done. More expensive but more specific.
While we agree with Evans’ two predictions about online providers and tech shops, we do not agree with his assertion that there won’t be 3D printers in the home. Look at other markets: personal computers, inkjet or laser printers, photo printers, etc. In each of these cases, this technology started out expensive and niche, but eventually moved into the mainstream and enabled new industries to blossom.
Read Evans’ full post and the comments that ensue.
Bill Gates photo by MATEUS_27:24&25 used under Creative Commons license.