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Riding the wave
Professional surfer Billy Kemper rides a giant wave at the legendary big wave surf break known as "Jaws" during one the largest swells of the winter March 13, 2011 in Maui, HI.
To many, the over-hyping of 3D printing in the mass media is simply a bit of fun or something that is part of the natural ‘hype cycle’ of a technology. For some however, the repercussions are far more serious.
At TCT we are still learning how the explosive growth in interest and awareness of personal 3D printing technologies applies to our core industrial readers, advertisers and supporters. The launch of www.prsnlz.me was one way to separate the industrial from the personal, the business tool from the gadget.
The effects have been two-fold, one positive and one negative. For starters the boom in interest in 3D printing from mainstream media over the last 18–24 months has been exceptional publicity for the industry as whole, bringing additive technologies of all kinds to a whole new audience. This has been seen as a generally positive move by most — the more people know about the technology, the more can hope to benefit from it.
Problems arise in the substance of the education. In many instances the coverage has been shouty, hype-laden and in many cases factually incorrect. The whole ‘build anything you can imagine’ message (which is being peddled by the press and machine supplier) is leading to confusion and disappointment when the truth finally outs. It is this that will start the trough of disillusionment then, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For service bureaux whose life-blood is still prototyping, the misguided belief that for a couple of thousand pounds one can obtain a machine capable of producing anything is starting to lead to frustration. More than one such bureaux commented to me from TCT Live that the number of people who were interested in getting parts made was up on previous years — as was the number of people who looked dumbstruck at the cost of parts. It’s easy to see why. If the mainstream press is churning out a story a week about the ‘manufacturing revolution’ and sub £1k machines that can make anything the idea of paying thousands of pounds for a handful of models from a bureau looks absurd.
Of course, as I have stated many times before, bureaux don’t just make the parts — they make the right models, in the right materials using the right process so that the end product is fit for purpose. Also, as machines like the Form1, MiiCraft and others bring stereolithography and DLP to the desktop for a few thousand pounds (or dollars, or euro) a bureau whose main offering is SLA finds itself having the same conversations, usually fruitless conversations, about why the systems are not the same, and why some SLA parts will cost you more than low-cost machines are to buy.
And this is not just the man on the street becoming befuddled in the face of ‘new’ technology. Many of the instances reported to me came from designers and engineers who had been swept up in the 3D printing hype wave, only to be summarily dumped on the shores of clarity when face-to-face with an expert.
‘Don’t believe the hype’ has become something of a cliché — even in terms of the editorial pieces TCT has published in the last 12 months — but I don’t think the message is getting through. Best buckle up for the ride then as we speed towards the trough of disillusionment in terms of at-home 3D printing. In his day-one keynote industry analyst Todd Grimm showed how the prototyping and manufacturing aspects of additive technologies have passed through the hype and even the disillusionment and are starting to gain real ground as serious technologies.
The peak of the hype-wave tsunami around ‘consumer’ 3D printing is much larger than for the industrial applications however, and I really hope that the resulting splash doesn’t detract from the hard work industrial users have put in to ensure the technology is taken seriously and recognised for it’s true strengths.