3D Systems Cubify brand aimed to put a printer in every home
One of the main problems the late 2013 peak of “3D printer in every home” (or more audaciously, if you’re Avi Reichental, “One in every room”) was not to do with the hardware but the total lack of an application for your average Joe.
Sure the printers themselves were not quite at the level some marketers would have you believe, but they weren’t far off from being as reliable as other appliances, take your 2D printer, for instance, does that work flawlessly? I doubt it, I’ve very nearly hoisted a few Epsons out of the first-floor window in my time.
The dream was that was we’d be making everything from our dinnerware to our toys but as Digits2Widgets’ Jonathan Rowley once said to me “most people don’t want to knit a jumper themselves, they want to buy a branded one.” There are countless reports into the death of the home cooked meal or the decreasing make-do and mend mentality. To me, considering the proliferation of how-to videos on YouTube and the infinite source the web offers the downturn of DIY is somewhat surprising.
But how many people do you know would consider fixing their own smashed smartphone screen? They either put up with it, take it to a shop, or buy a totally new one when in fact the process of buying a new screen, watching a YouTube video and fitting yourself isn't all that difficult.
The human condition can be a lazy one, technology in the home tends to be geared towards relieving us of duties like vacuuming, making coffee, I've even bought something that allows me to turn dim the lights with getting out of my seat. 3D printing is not a technology that encourages laziness, it is a technology that with a certain mindset - a maker mindset - can help us solve very specific problems with elegance.
Unfortunately for the manufacturers of 3D printers, most people do not have this mindset, despite a slight upturn in the recession years a recent survey shows that DIY skills (in the male of the species at least) are dying out. This is why we've seen a shift away from the technology aimed at consumers towards professionals and educators.
It comes back to this killer application argument, people want to know what the technology can do for them but it is difficult to sell a technology that requires use of imagination in order to get the best out of it. The RoboHand project is an incredible example of what the tech can do but I get the feeling people look at that and think 'wow that's great for THEM' not 'that's great for ME'.
What desktop technology needs to show is how it solves more generic, everyday problems. I am not a designer, I am not an engineer, I do not have a workshop, I don't have a garage full of tools but I do have a 3D printer.
A couple of weeks back I also had a cabinet that needed wedging into a corner, I had measured it and thought it should fit. I had not taken into account the mains sockets protruding from the skirting board and thus the cabinet didn't fit. So I decided to print some legs that would lift it above those sockets, I measured the height and designed some pretty crude L-shaped legs. A lot of people reading that may say "why didn't you just cut a piece of wood?", because I didn't have any wood or the tools to do it, I did have some black ABS and a printer. And the solution worked just fine.
Basic legs for a cabinet, you say, whatever next hot running water?
Well, yes actually. Jan Kolda didn't like the hot and cold water situation with his kitchen taps, he couldn't ever get the desired temperature using a two tap system. So instead of attempting to fit a new mixer tap he'd bought from B&Q and potentially causing a Beano like situation and flooding the kitchen, he created an incredibly bespoke system for his faucet.
The geared mechanism fitted to his taps allows him to create the perfect mix between hot and cold water he wants by simply moving one lever.
Jan's example is incredibly bespoke, it will only work for those very specific taps but was an annoyance and he used his imagination and a 3D printer to create a solution, it would have been far too expensive to attempt this any other way.
Jan Kolda's tap mechanism
Jan Kolda's tap mechanism allows him to create the perfect temperature with one lever.
Perhaps your sprinkler system doesn't quite reach one part of your garden, perhaps you've lost your brackets for a discontinued surround sound system, perhaps you have a weird Chinese smartphone and nobody makes covers for it, perhaps you'd like to try out a new shower head. If you have a 3D printer or access to one, why not try to make your next bit of DIY something you actually did yourself?
3D printing could inspire a return of the DIY mentality and in equal measure, DIY could reignite the consumer desktop 3D printer market but there's a big gaping hole in the middle and we need a bridge to link them together.