What ‘gets my goat’ about 3D printing?

It’s not the hyped expectations: “It took 6 hours just to print that small thing?!”

It’s not the overnight prints that mysteriously fail overnight.

It’s not the frustration of finding your perfect design isn’t perfect and needs changes for tolerance, weird lopsidedness or simply gravity.

What ‘gets my goat’ about 3D printing is this:

People think it’s just a toy!

A toy! It makes my grind my teeth.

3D printing is not a toy! A serious business that serious businesses invest in.

Think Construction and Architecture (WinSun).

Think Aerospace ( Airbus Industries).

Think Space (Nasa).

But what if it was just a toy? Just suppose, eh?

Now there’s nothing against toys. I liked them a lot as a youngster. They often work as simplified versions of the real thing. With the same principles. What you learn with a toy hammer you can apply with a real hammer, thumbs included.

Take gunpowder. A great Chinese invention that was initially used as fireworks, toys in other words. Yet it went on to become a key part of medieval warfare and led to advancements in casting and metallurgy. Not at toy now.

Take the steam engine. Invented in the 1st century AD and treated as toy novelty until the 17th Century. Not at toy now.

Take the laser. Originally considered the “solution looking for a problem”, a perfect toy. Yet now we find it cropping up all over the place from disc players, fibre optics, to surgical instruments. Not at toy now.

No technology is an island, it mixes, merges and intertwines with other scientific developments and its usage grows accordingly. This is happening right now with 3D printing.

So please, I ask you, don’t deride 3D printing as a mere toy. Despite its limitations it is a great and versatile technology and will find growing use in medicine, robotics, and many other fields as well.

Is there something that ‘gets your goat’ too? I wonder what it might be…


What is it about 3D printing that so captivates people?

Is it the wonder of watching 3D print progress? The fascination of seeing each layer build one upon one the other as a design goes from thought to reality. There is nothing quite like watching a design came to life: Layer by layer slowly building up upon itself with the printhead leaping from one section to another. As it grows it leaves areas filled with a honeycomb pattern inside, soon to be hidden and only glimpsed in the making . It is as mesmerising to watch all this unfold as it can be to stare into the flicker of the candlelight or a hearth fire.

But what is else is there once the novelty has worn off?

I can clearly remember on a summers day during one of those seemingly idle summer holidays wondering what it might be like to have my own mini world to play with. At the time this was an unreachable goal. Yet the idea was captivating And drew Me towards the imaginary worlds of science fiction.
As an adult is there a more tangible way in which we can act on these kind of creative impulses? I believe there is.
By designing your own objects you are free to think in three dimensions and to experiment with what is possible to create.

In doing so the gives you a tremendous feeling of freedom to do whatever takes your fancy to extend here, shrink there, add and subtract gives you a feeling of empowerment and total control over the design in front of you. It can be intoxicating. You could design a totally preposterous multi turreted castle with drawbridge upside out or inside out for that matter. You decide what is good without even the restriction of gravity to hold you back. Of course you may not create a design that is considered useful or practical by others but that may not be the point. It is your design. You decide what is and what will go where. It is also possible to follow utilitarian rules and generate your design to close engineering requirements which follow the best design principles for stable and consistent shape. It is entirely up to you what you do and whether you meet any external requirements. You are also free to design an unprintable design!