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What's Holding Back 3-D Printing 348

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-3-D-glasses-don't-seem-to-help dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An article at MIT's Technology Review makes the case that the complexity of the design tools behind 3-D printing are what's holding it back from widespread adoption. Many of the devices are indeed prohibitively expensive, but the inability for your average person — or even your average tech hobbyist — to pick it up and start experimenting is an even bigger obstacle. 'That means software innovation could be more important to 3-D printing than gradual improvements in the underlying technology for shaping objects. That technology is already 30 years old and is widely used in industry to create prototypes, molds, and, in some cases, parts for airplanes. ... Although additive manufacturing allows for designs that can't be made easily in any other way — such as complex shapes with internal cavities — so far, companies have mostly used 3-D printing to create prototypes or models of familiar products.'"
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What's Holding Back 3-D Printing

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:11PM (#43571737)

    Tech sites like Slashdot are ignoring innovations like 3D printing, bitcoin, Raspberry Pi.

    • by sanman2 (928866) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:28PM (#43571787)

      What rubbish - with everyone and his brother being a programmer nowadays, anything new always ends up with a call to develop more software for it. When all you have is a hammer, then every problem is made to look like a nail. Software is most certainly not the bottleneck. There are plenty of 3D modeling programs out there, and a number of them have features for solid modeling.

      The real hurdle to 3D printing is in being able to produce parts that don't look like rejects from the Lego factory. High-end 3D printers that can produce high-quality objects command an astronomical price. Software is the least of the problem here.

      • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:49PM (#43571845)

        What rubbish - with everyone and his brother being a programmer nowadays, anything new always ends up with a call to develop more software for it. When all you have is a hammer, then every problem is made to look like a nail. Software is most certainly not the bottleneck. There are plenty of 3D modeling programs out there,

        Although I agree that 3D printers that can do something really useful are still too expensive, dismissing software is just plain wrong. If you think that software isn't a big part of the problem, then you've never used 3D modeling software.

        The idea that anyone can design a 3D item as easily as drawing a picture in Microsoft Paint (or GIMP) is a fantasy that may never become a reality. If you've ever actually used 3D modelling software, you understand this.

        • The idea that anyone can design a 3D item as easily as drawing a picture in Microsoft Paint (or GIMP) is a fantasy that may never become a reality.

          Who said anything about designing? It's not a requirement for most potential consumers. Cost aside (as that changes with volume and advancements in tech), all a home user would need is either a 3D handheld scanner, or ability to download the file and print the object. The uses are mainly utilitarian replacing the need to purchase any cheap Chinese plastic crap su

          • by peragrin (659227)

            And where do you get that scanner? it is usually more expensive than the printer.

            Of course when some comapny combines the scanner and Printer into one package. Where you can scan and then print out new parts then it will take off some more.

            the next real adoption issue is that it can only do cheap plastic parts. which means it's average utility won't be that good. personally I am waiting for a 3D printer that can do things like rubber o-rings, seals, gaskets. that will be huge if you can get all the compa

            • by wierd_w (1375923)

              Uhm... it's quite easy to digitize a flat part like a gasket. Really.

              Here's how I do it when building waterjet flowpaths for aerospace sheetmetal parts from ancient PCM masters from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s:

              Get yourself a consumer grade flatbed scanner. Legal size or larger preferred. In one corner, tape down a pair of machinist's scales [micromark.com] so they form a 90deg angle at the bottom. We will use this to measure the distortion of the scanner, so we can adjust for it.

              Put the gasket down on the scanner, and cover

        • by sd4f (1891894)

          3D modelling software i've used lets you import bitmap pictures.

          I'm no cad expert, but i use it a fair bit as a mechanical engineer, and the basic idea behind it is, you can draw things, but CAD software is so much more than just drawing, most useful programs include or offer packages for finite element analysis with particles, stress, displacement and heat transfer, or motion studies. So for me, the software, while not always incredibly intuitive to use, it's brilliant because it does other things which i

        • What rubbish - with everyone and his brother being a programmer nowadays, anything new always ends up with a call to develop more software for it. When all you have is a hammer, then every problem is made to look like a nail. Software is most certainly not the bottleneck. There are plenty of 3D modeling programs out there,

          Although I agree that 3D printers that can do something really useful are still too expensive, dismissing software is just plain wrong. If you think that software isn't a big part of the problem, then you've never used 3D modeling software.

          The idea that anyone can design a 3D item as easily as drawing a picture in Microsoft Paint (or GIMP) is a fantasy that may never become a reality. If you've ever actually used 3D modelling software, you understand this.

          Yes, most 3D software is hard to use. But, I think that problem will not really be solved. I mean, take the pencil. Most people have trouble creating 2d art with a pencil. MS Paint has the same problem. Other than high quality 3d scanners, making the software good enough for novices to design well is probably not going to happen.

      • by Jeremi (14640) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:59PM (#43571895) Homepage

        The real hurdle to 3D printing is in being able to produce parts that don't look like rejects from the Lego factory.

        The real issue is that most people just don't need custom parts. Most widgets that are useful are already available at a very good price at the local hardware store.

        Custom part fabrication is handy for well-heeled tinkerers, but most people aren't tinkerers or well-heeled.

        Come out with a 3D food printer, on the other hand, that will probably sell. ;)

        • Come out with a 3D food printer, on the other hand, that will probably sell. ;)

          There are 3d food printers. However, they are limited to single materials they can extrude (icing is popular, I think some cake shops use 3d icing printers).

          And that, I suspect, is the real limitation. Consumer-level 3d printers are not "replicators". They are rapid prototyping units for making crude plastic models. Very few people need to make enough crude plastic models to justify buying and learning to use a 3d printer. Same reason most people aren't going to buy an arduino kit instead of a mass produced

        • The real issue is that most people just don't need custom parts.

          Especially when the only custom parts the printers can make look like cheap plastic. What can you do with that, really?

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        What rubbish - with everyone and his brother being a programmer nowadays,

        Isn't the correct term to use actually "brogrammer"?
        (another way of putting it: one would think that quantity doesn't necessary equate to quality).

        There are plenty of 3D modeling programs out there, and a number of them have features for solid modeling.

        Any detail on the topic, especially if the said application is open source, will be highly appreciated ('m not necessary lazy - at least not on the wrong side of the word - except that the missus wants the home sparkling clean).

        • by daid303 (843777)

          In pure solid modeling FOSS we have FreeCAD and OpenSCAD.

          Blender has some help tools for solid modeling (the "select none-manifold edges" [ctrl]+[shift]+[alt]+[m] really helps, as well as the remove duplicate vertexes with a range setting)

      • by daid303 (843777) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:11AM (#43572539)

        Stop looking at the bad reprap prints, and look at this:
        http://davedurant.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/ultimaker-faq-but-what-about-the-quality-of-prints/ [wordpress.com]

        All done on stock 1200 euro Ultimakers.

        • by Dunbal (464142) *
          Doesn't really help the argument. In fact, you're making the point. These things look bad.
      • If the little bricks didnt cost $5 each to make

      • by marcansoft (727665) <hector @ m a r c a n s o f t.com> on Sunday April 28, 2013 @10:27AM (#43573881) Homepage

        There's two problems with the current crop of 3D printers. First, the printers are fiddly. It is possible to print out decent objects on a good printer (personally, I'm a fan of the Ultimaker). However, it requires tuning the printer and the software and maintaining them. It's a solution for tinkerers, not for Joe Average. Companies like MakerBot are deluding themselves when they think they've got a RepRap-class printer they can sell already assembled "for the masses". They still need too much maintenance.

        Second, you can't just print anything and expect it to look good. If your object doesn't require support material (overhangs are all under a reasonable angle), and the slices don't contain more than one connected surface, then it will look beautiful on a decent printer. If you need support material though, then you have to deal with removing it, which is nontrivial. If you have more than one surface per slice, then you have to deal with stringing. That's not too bad if the surfaces are far apart (you can remove it easily), but it's difficult if they are close together. These are the limitations of plastic extrusion printers today, and you need to design models taking them into account.

        On decent prints: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcan42/8542507791/in/photostream/ [flickr.com] . That's a gear, about 8cm across. You have to get up really close to be able to see those layers with the naked eye (they're 0.1mm tall). The roughness on the top and bottom surfaces is probably on the order of 50 microns. It is possible to go smaller on this printer.
        On fiddling: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcan42/8543920590/in/photostream/ [flickr.com] . Left print is before tensioning belts, right print after. Of course, one of the cool aspects is that I was able to print the belt tensioners on the printer itself.

        I'm very happy with my printer, but I would never recommend it to someone who isn't already a hardware hacker.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:11PM (#43571741)

    I don't really want a reprap or similar printer. The print quality is too low. And the cost of the high end machines is prohibitive.

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:27PM (#43571781)

      I don't really want a reprap or similar printer. The print quality is too low.

      The quality is improving. If you haven't checked out a 3D printer in the last year, you might be surprised. But I think TFA is wrong. The design tools are not what is holding back 3D printing. My son is in third grade, and he used a CAD program to design some parts for his science project. My daughter has designed and printed furniture for her dollhouse. It is not hard.

      What is keeping 3D printing from being more of a hobbyist niche, is that most people just don't have any compelling need for random plastic parts. So far there is no killer app.

      • Random plastic parts perhaps but what about fully assembled plastic devices that have servo and circuit mounts?

        You could very easily download a blueprint, buy an inexpensive circuit kit, and then install part 1 into part 2 to get nearly anything.

        For that you need higher resolution printing machines.

        The higher end ones for example can have fully assembled moving parts Reprap doesn't give you that. The resolution is too low. Warping occurs whenever you try to make something large. High end machines don't warp

        • by Dekker3D (989692)

          With a heated bed, warping is minimal, as far as I understand it. Of course, I haven't even bothered connecting mine to the circuit boards yet... Even with just yellow/white painter's tape on my print surface, I don't get any problems with this on most prints.

          Granted, most of my prints could fit inside a 10x10 cm area on the print surface, so they're not very big.

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          "not everyone is an engineer"..

          I wouldn't say that the design tools is what's holding it back though... since the design has to be only done once by one guy. it's the printing techniques that are feasible for home that are holding it back. though even then you can have lots of useful things printed, if you want something custom for assembling ikea parts or whatever.

          the push button printers tend to suck and the cheap good home printers tend to need fiddling around. even the makerbots aren't push button(their

      • That will probably be fixed with when laser sintering printer are made easily available like a reprap is now. Then you will be able to print random metal bits which is a much more appealing option. Also your average person knows nothing about the existing 3d printers. I showed a non geek friend of mine the site for the makerbot and reprap after I told her I was think about building a 3d printer. She thought that it was amazing literally comparing to magic, (ironically her first though was was oh no someone

      • by Osgeld (1900440)

        I have looked at them very recently

        5 grand for a wobbly frame that prints out a rough toy figure in mere hours that requires carving for cleanup

        we use professional printing services for work, if we want to take them out for show that 3 grand MODEL gets filled and sanded cause even its not of any acceptable quality if you want to present it to the ignorant public, and jesus, dont even think about stressing it in the slightest, even though it wont fit cause its fractions of a degree wrapped

      • by BryanL (93656) <lowtherbf&gmail,com> on Sunday April 28, 2013 @02:54AM (#43572381)

        I thought printable guns were going to be the killer app.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          I'm pretty sure that the first market for this is going to be printing sex toys in the privacy of your own home.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:13PM (#43571747)

    What's holding back 3-D printing is that it's only good for making plastic crap.

    Doing something useful, like replicating a new carburetor for my 30-year-old roto-tiller, is more difficult and more expensive.

  • Nonsense (Score:4, Interesting)

    by arpad1 (458649) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:34PM (#43571795)

    What's holding back 3-D printing is that there's hardly anything worthwhile to be done with it.

    Other then printing an AR-15 lower receiver or magazines what can you do with a 3-D printer that's worth the bother?

    • Which is why they will never be allowed to go mainstream. There is not a single country on Earth that would be ok with allowing its citizens to have the ability to produce weapons.

      • by sgrover (1167171)

        If you follow that logic, then simple milling machines would be outlawed too. After all, with a milling machine one could make a gun from plastic just as easily as metal. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to put it back in with regards to 3D Printing, and even printing a gun. But, personal responsibility still applies - if you actually print a gun and then use it illicitly, you are still subject to all the laws involved. While you are doing that, 99.9% of the others who own 3D Printers

        • Well, like milling machines, as long as they cost 500K and years of experience to use they will not have to outlaw it.

          But it will never be a product that is hooked up to your personal desktop, where little billy (after he is finished printing out his assignment), loading up a underground website and prints off a AK47 with the click of the button.

          • Well, like milling machines, as long as they cost 500K and years of experience to use they will not have to outlaw it.

            Milling machines cost no where near $500k. You can get them for a thousand times less than that. I bought my first vertical mill for about $400. You can buy a CNC mill for $880. [sherline.com] You don't need CNC capability to make a gun, but it will make it easier.

            These mills may be small, but they are not toys. With the exception of the size of the workpiece, they can do anything that big iron can do.

          • by dbIII (701233)
            There's very cheap CNC hobby mills that can take G-code (not much harder to code in than LOGO) now. I don't think there's ever been any CNC mills that cost half a million apart from prototypes, but I get your point. Full scale industrial multi-axis milling machines can be bought second hand for less than the price of the cheapest new car, or for another option there's a very cool series of books by "Tubal Cain" on how to build your own industrial workshop (mini-foundry, lathe, mill and attachments for gea
          • by amiga3D (567632)

            Never say never. 10 years down the road who knows where this technology could be. I believe that it will only get better and cheaper.

      • by joshki (152061)

        Which is why they will never be allowed to go mainstream. There is not a single country on Earth that would be ok with allowing its citizens to have the ability to produce weapons.

        If that were the case, why do they allow mills and lathes? Anyone can make a functional weapon with a mill and a lathe -- and ironically enough, a 3d printer can make weapon parts but cannot make a complete weapon. You still need the machine tools to make things like barrels that cannot (and never will) be made on a 3d printer.

      • There's plenty of hobby gun makers around. I used to work with a guy that tested brass tubing, and he made some to the rejects into cartridges for his one inch smoothbore "Brown Bess" lookalike that he had built as a breech loader, even if it looked like a musket. He had to get a different gun licence to the usual but the Australian government didn't have any problems with him making it and owning it.
      • Which is why they will never be allowed to go mainstream. There is not a single country on Earth that would be ok with allowing its citizens to have the ability to produce weapons.

        Once upon a time, not too long ago, encryption was classified as a munition too.

      • by Cyberax (705495)
        You are a stupid gun nut, aren't you? Producing and/or obtaining weapons is easy with existing technologies. And contrary to your delirium, most governments are not a single-willed entity focused on depraving people of their precious guns.
      • by meglon (1001833)
        No.

        You can make a zipgun out of a ball point pen. Everyone has the ability to make a weapon; most people simply don't have the need, desire, or psychosis to do so.... and admittedly, many don't have the imagination for it either.
    • Re:Nonsense (Score:5, Interesting)

      by evil_aaronm (671521) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @12:02AM (#43571903)
      I hesitate to say, "You lack imagination." It's too confrontational for my tastes. However, if I had a quality 3D printer, capable of turning out durable pieces, I'd have almost no end of things I'd create: parts for robotics; automated pan-tilt assemblies; custom gears; custom servo horns; project cases for gadgets I've built; toys for my granddaughter; etc. As it is, I cut and drill pieces from stock plastic, and it's a pain in comparison to custom forming things from a CAD drawing.
      • by MarkvW (1037596)

        There is a mountain of money to be made in the plans. That's the future. It's just a matter of time.

      • by houghi (78078)

        It is not a lack of imagination. It is a lack of need. Compare it too woodworking. I could easily buy the tools to make a table. I would just need some time to learn how to use those tools. It will then be more to my specifications and be cheaper. However when I have that table, I do not need another table.

        I could start making tables just because I have the skill, or I could start making tables for others and make it a profession. Yet others will tell me to make a chair and anything else which comes to "if

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        However, if I had a quality 3D printer, capable of turning out durable pieces

        The lack of durability, strength and reliability is exactly why current 3D printing has only very limited use. Pretty much the only thing you can print with it are cheap plastic toys.

    • Other then printing an AR-15 lower receiver or magazines what can you do with a 3-D printer that's worth the bother?

      I drive a 14 year old car. I am far from poor, I drive it because there hasn't really been another vehicle that has appealed to me since. My driver's side door no longer opens from the outside because a plastic part snapped off inside the door itself. It is actually a common failure on these vehicles. Right now I have to go hunt through junk-yards to find an (aged) replacement part. A 3D printer (and the right 3D cad file) would allow me to print a replacement doohickey and fix my door without worrying

      • To make your car door doohicky, you could use some Polymorph, Instamorph or any Epoxy putty instead.
        http://www.instamorph.com/
        https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10950

        That is another problem with plastic printers - multiple alternatives already exist.

    • by daid303 (843777)

      Board gamers love 3D printers for custom play pieces.
      Lego builders like them for custom bits.
      Robot builders like them for getting that missing bracket/piece now instead of in 2 weeks for 10x the money.
      Architects like them for scale models.
      Product developers like them for prototypes.
      Artists like them to produce new and interesting art.

      And I like them, because I'm printing an Desert Eagle for an arcade cabinet.

      (Actually printing a working gun that does not have the risk to blow up in your face will be proven

    • I'm pretty surprised that you think nothing is worth printing. There are products for which I feel the only important thing is the plastic shape itself. For instance, a dock for your mobile phone. Or a lunch box. A laptop case. A box to store your nuts and bolts. Models to paint, like model airplanes or tabletop game parts. Door handles. Spoons and spatulas for kitchen usage.

      It's a pretty long list.

    • by Tom (822)

      what can you do with a 3-D printer that's worth the bother?

      I'm a pen&paper roleplayer, LARPer and boardgame enthusiast. The list of things I can imagine printing if it were a) affordable and b) a lot easier to build the shapes is almost endless.

  • Really, 3D printing is a new fad but the amount of useful stuff one could do with it is pretty small. Usually, people say "my own Lego set" and "plastic toys". And that's about it.

    Call me when 3D printers learn to print with metal.
    • Calling you regarding sintered metal laser printers:
      http://gpiprototype.com/services/dmls-direct-metal-laser-sintering.html
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_metal_laser_sintering
  • by robbak (775424) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:46PM (#43571827) Homepage

    As long as the raw materials are priced in tens of dollars per kilogram, printing out random stuff is always going to be too expensive. Really, it is bulk plastic. It should be priced nearer 40 kilograms per dollar than 40 dollars per kilogram.

    • by daid303 (843777)

      You sir. Sorry for the word. Are an idiot. And have no idea what you are talking about.

      A kg of filament is a LOT of filament. Plastic is light and objects are printed partially hollow. I do expect prices to drop a bit in a few years, as the raw plastics pellets costs about 4-5 euro per kg. (asking for 40kg per dollar is just sticking your head up your ass and asking for a pony)

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        You sir. Sorry for the word. Are an idiot. And have no idea what you are talking about.

        A kg of filament is a LOT of filament. Plastic is light and objects are printed partially hollow. I do expect prices to drop a bit in a few years, as the raw plastics pellets costs about 4-5 euro per kg. (asking for 40kg per dollar is just sticking your head up your ass and asking for a pony)

        he has _some_ idea but not a lot, since as you say the plastic markup from turning it into filament is just 10x increase in price.

        as someone who has a 3d printer churning away one meter from where I'm sitting right now.. it's not the price of the plastic that's keeping me from printing more and more. it's the printing time and that the printers aren't really built to be left unattended(safety, or rather lack of safety devices or even any certification on the device itself), which gets us to deceptive market

        • by daid303 (843777)

          I'm sad to hear that you own a Makerbot. I got an Ultimaker a year ago. And now I'm working at Ultimaker for a few months on software developement. We leave Ultimakers unattended a lot. I've added extra safety features in the RepRap firmware for this reason. We've done 100+ hour successful prints on our larger sized printers (up to 52cm). And we're working on improving the safety on our ready-build printers. But I have no fear in leaving our printers run unattended right now.

          Makerbot does little innovation

  • General competence in use of 3D design software is only critical to the ubiquity of 3D printing because everything that someone might wish to construct will be affected by intellectual property law: if someone else was granted a patent or copyright, then they can demand payment for use of it. Since especially at this stage that payment demand is likely to be unreasonable and excessive, the average person whose 3D printing needs are personal and not entrepreneurial has two choices: either pay the excessive

  • When they make a unit that requires very little, other then inputting what you want printed and putting materials in it, then it probably won't get that widespread adoption that the big corporations think is necessary to make a profit.

    And if you all you can think of as uses for it is to make legos and toys, then I'm sorry for you. I can think of hundreds of useful things it can print for around the home. And even more for the home hobbyist.

  • Extruder based 3d printers are far too slow, inconsistent, and expensive to recommend to anyone other than an enthusiast. You have to learn the 3d design software, slicer software, and then spend a few hundred hours getting to know your printer.

    If you're building prototypes or something, they can be a useful alternative to subtractive machining. They can not be used to replace an existing plastic part without a really good 3d scanner, and far more tweaking than most people are willing to endure.

    Some day non
  • use minecraft (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jcupitt65 (68879) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @12:08AM (#43571919)

    A friend of a friend made this:

    http://www.printcraft.org/ [printcraft.org]

    Make something in minecraft on this (free) server and it emails you a 3D printer file of your object when you disconnect.

  • We really just don't need that much plastic crap. I mean sure, you could print a replacement thirty-cent plastic O-Ring for your vacuum cleaner or something, but really you could have just driven to the hardware store and got one of those. I have seen some fairly nifty artistic uses for them, but it's just not something the average Joe needs to be able to do right now. Maybe when we get to the point where we can print organs with them and I can print a new liver every week, it might be a different story (An
  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @12:24AM (#43571987)

    Been using 3D solids for rapid prototyping new medical equipment for over 15 years.

    Job shops can make your parts quickly and relatively inexpensively compared to other machining and hand working methods, so that part is OK for prototyping and functional parts that can stand being done in the limited rapid prototyping materials & processes available.

    Skills need are the understanding of the design of physical parts with all the subtleties and the desire to learn to use a competant 3D solids modeling environment. You don't walk in to this expecting a familiarity with PowerPoint as enough skill to do the job.

    Competent 3D solids software from the likes of SolidWorks, AutoCAD or other similar programs start at about $5,000 per seat and they don't become highly usable until you get near $10k. It easily takes 1000-2000 hours to become good at doing 3D modeling, assuming you are already familiar with design and 2D CAD.

    There are 3D solids RP machines in half a dozen types and you can't afford to buy them for hobby uses. Stratysis laser sintering for Nylon, SS & Titanium type things cost more than a Ferrari, so forget it, unless you are Jay Leno.

    • Hobbyist RP printers are just that. It is like the difference between a go-cart and a McLaren F1.

      Each printer does only 1 or 2 material types, each with its own characteristics that can be good for some uses and not so good for others.

      Soft elastomerics & elastomerics on hard plastic can be done on Objet machines and they are very useful for mocking up co-molded parts that would be produced by multi-shot injection molding later. They can look nearly like finished molded products.

      Strong Nylon parts can

      • Once you get familiar with 3D solids and RP printers, what does it take to get a custom box with a lid and latch as someone above considered?

        You have to model up at least 3 pieces and how the fit, hinge, lock and go together. Been there, done that and sometimes that is 10-20 hours if there are subtleties you must develop for sealing, locating, strength, draft & such.

        Then you email the models to your contract job shop RP modeler. His guys evaluate the models and may let you know you have defects in the

    • by dbIII (701233)
      I've used AutoCAD since 1987 or 1988, and while the constructive solid modelling added since then is nice there are plenty of other things that can do it. Some of them are free. They are just different so need a bit of a learning curve, but if you don't know AutoCAD you'd get that anyway. Most people coming in wouldn't even know much about drafting so it's a steep learning curve for anything, and not necessarily any worse with the free or cheap alternatives. For the really involved stuff AutoCAD is usel
  • It's not being held back, it just can't match the unrealistic hype that has grown around it.
    The funny thing is the hype is along the lines of "flying car" impracticality instead of some of the utterly amazing things that are actually being done, especially with biological materials. It looks like printing working nerve cells is not far off which creates medical possibilities that the magazine and blog writers pushing the hype have not considered.
    There's only so much that can be done with plastic and sinter
  • A worthy goal would be to make a 3D print process that creates other 3D printers, then let everyone have a chance to create.
  • by ethicalcannibal (1632871) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @12:51AM (#43572061)
    This is the exact reason I haven't picked one up. I can make and use a vacuum former. I can sculpt, and make castings. All of these things are easier for me than working with the current set of 3D printers. I'm sure I could learn to work the thing, and make the programs, but it's just not worth my time, when I can do it the old fashioned way faster. Not everyone is a programmer. If the interface was slick and easy, I'd cough up the cash in minutes. I've been watching the progression of these little things for ages, and would love to have one. However, even my most tech savvy buddies have to spend more time trouble shooting than making. Hell, even the Mojang guys were tweeting about a new 3D printer, and damn if they didn't have to trouble shoot, and replace a part straight off. So the article is right. It's not the $2000 that is holding me back from buying one. It's the learning curve, and the inhospitable user interface. I may be a techy artist, but I'm an artist, not a programmer.
  • Many of the devices are indeed prohibitively expensive, but the inability for your average person — or even your average tech hobbyist — to pick it up and start experimenting is an even bigger obstacle

    Hold up for a second there.

    I'm pretty sure that the "prohibitively expensive" part is the bigger obstacle.

    Even if the printers were free and the software was perfectly consumer-friendly, the cost of maintenance, materials, design time, and printing time would still be steep for something made from cheap plastic.

  • Lack of color.
    Lack of cheap integrated 3d scan/create device.

    Of course business will go crazy when this is invented.

  • I am convinced that 3D printing is a niche market, I would say that until 3D file generation become as easy as operating a camera, point and shoot, most people will ignore 3D printing. It has been shown that people would like one or two 3D printed items, but why have a printer to print items that are cheaper off the shelf, or fill rubbish bins with failed prints from under powered computers, poor 3D modelling, or corrupt files?

    People assemble 3D objects all of the time, they don't need a printer, they have

  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @01:37AM (#43572169) Journal

    almost a year now, on and off. Here are my comments...

    Trying to use Arduino Mega2560 controller board with RAMPS 1.4 and LCD/encoder/SD card reader and Marlin firmware has been a nightmare of surfing through thousands of posts on dozens of internet forums to try to get info on how to get the compiler to run, what needs to be modified in the firmware for my machine- no documentation but the often cryptic comments in the source code.

    The latest, greatest firmware, Marlin, was developed using an old version of the Arduino-0023 IDE and cannot be compiled on the latest Arduino IDE. The old IDE attempts to define the "round" math function that is already defined in the AVR-GCC compiler, so it will not run unless you comment out the "round" function definition in the old Arduino-0023 IDE.

    Next, you have to modify the firmware to fit your machine- it needs to know things like steps/mm in each axis, how big is the print bed, etc. How do you know what needs to be changed? Read through the poor comments in the source code because there is no other documentation, or start hunting through forums. Just figuring out the logic for the endstops is a game of trial and error even though proper comments or better yet, a manual of some sort telling what the defaults are/mean and how to change them, would be a huge help.

    Once you get he machine running, there are about 50 variables in the firmware that can be used to tune its performance, if you can figure out what they are and how they affect the print results.

    Open source is a nice idea, but I'll take thoroughly documented, reliable PIC hardware and IDE over an Arduino any day of the week, but I'm getting off topic...

    Using a printer is a whole different set of problems. Unless you just want to print other people's designs, you need to create a 3D model, requiring knowledge of CAD software. Once you have the model, you have to slice it up using yet another piece of software and requiring knowledge of intimate details of the printer's mechanical, electrical, and thermal characteristics to get maximum quality results.

    I used to use PCB milling machines in the 90s and processing the files for cutting a board was a major PITA back then. Here we are 15 years later and the software situation hasn't improved. Until someone integrates the model creation, slicing, and printer control software into a single package and makes it easy for almost anyone to use without a lot of special knowledge or training, 3D printing will remain a hobby for hard-core geeks.

    • by daid303 (843777)

      I made Marlin Arduino 1.xx compatible a year ago. And everything you say is RepRap related (who do a bad job at documentation), not 3D printing in general. You can buy an Ultimaker kit and be printing within a day. But you went the DIY route and are now surprised that you need to DIY stuff...

    • Open source is a nice idea, but I'll take thoroughly documented, reliable PIC hardware and IDE over an Arduino any day of the week, but I'm getting off topic...

      Just like to say, there's nothing inherently wrong with the Arduino's hardware (the fact that a stm32f4-series device of comparable price is about two orders of magnitude more powerful notwithstanding). But their silly "hide the reality of microcontrollers" IDE and most-C language made me intensely stabby. I guess what I'm saying is, get an stm32.

  • When people get excited about 3D-Printing, it's because they are envisioning Picard saying "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot", or because they picture themselves inventing a thing that solves that problem that's always annoyed them, or because they see themselves upgrading the plumbing, wiring and gadgetry around the house. Or they're a parent with delusions of making cool stuff for their kids.

    Then they find they have a friend who already got a 3D printer and discover that with do-overs and experiments, it costs more -

  • even the best stuff if fairly fragile to a machined part, so really what good is it at this point to mass produce 99$ 3d printers to make a do-dad, when the do-dad can be fractured by minimal mechanical stress?

  • Wall St which controls all money is scared to death of 3D printing upsetting their entire apple cart of investments in the current cheap labor manufacturing and transportation model. 3D printing, if widespread will devalue those investments faster than "they" can recover "their" money. Also, even though evil cabal's like Disney can DRM their 3D images, there is no way to stop similar likenesses or extract payment.

    Changes is a bitch.
     

    • Wall Street has plenty of things they are scared of, and plenty of things they ought to be scared of.

      People having the ability to turn astonishingly expensive plastic fiber into pitifully low-quality plastic doodads is not one of them.
  • by Rufty (37223) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:06AM (#43572529) Homepage
    OpenSCAD [openscad.org] seems to be relatively unheard of, but just what I needed for getting a couple of bits 3D printed (and one milled from metal).
    • by daid303 (843777)

      Great for programmers, sucks for average humans. (And well known within the 3D printing communities. It's the 2nd most uploaded file on thingiverse, next to stl)

  • by hackertourist (2202674) <<ln.tensmx> <ta> <tsiruotrekcah>> on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:52AM (#43572643)

    I've been experimenting with 3D printing, and my observations agree with TFA.
    For starters, 3D CAD is difficult. Designing a 3D object on a 2D screen with 2D controls (mouse) is a lot to get your head wrapped round no matter what. You need to be able to translate between 2D and 3D. Having experience in drawing or creating objects (sculpting, model building, anything) helps.

    Second, 3D CAD software is a mess. Simple programs are too simple: you quickly run into the limitations of programs like Sketchup and AutoCAD 123D. Complex programs are expensive and require training, or are free and require more training (Blender).
    All of them have odd limitations. Try subtracting two shapes from each other. Sounds simple, no? Forget it; it works sometimes, but other subtractions convert your model into a mess of triangular fragments that takes hours to correct.
    All too often, CAD programs can't create a true arc or circle, but approximate them with lots of straight line segments. This will come back to bite you in the ass later on.
    There's a whole category of CAD programs that you shouldn't use (surface modelers) because they create lots of problems when preparing the CAD file for 3D printing.

    (third) Then there's the software you need to prepare the CAD file for printing. For some reason, 3D printers care about the normal of a surface. Why should that matter?
    At this stage, you'll find out that your carefully-created CAD drawing is full of problems: holes, degenerate faces, etc. Your preparation software can often fix this, but at the cost of having to learn another language (Meshlab, I'm looking at you).
    Oh, and those straight line segments? Thanks to those, a simple cone shape consists of 100,000 tiny triangles, and Shapeways has a 10E6 triangle limit, so you have to simplify your model (preferably without sour simplifications becoming visible).

    (/rant)
    When you succeed, there's a big reward. Seeing the 3D drawing you created from scratch come alive as a plastic object is very satisfying. But it is a steep hill to climb.

  • Maybe... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:38AM (#43573653)

    Maybe the problem is that 3D printing is mainly for prototyping products. How many consumers are going to do that? Probably very few, particularly at today's price points. Hobbyists may, but even then, it is often cheaper, faster and better quality to send the design off to a specialty house than purchase the equipment yourself, unless the hobbyist is going to be doing a lot of work.

    In short 3D printing isn't taking off in the consumer market for the same reason that CNC machines aren't. There really isn't a consumer need.

  • Extremely expensive. (Score:3, Informative)

    by csumpi (2258986) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @12:26PM (#43574561)
    It's just very expensive to get into 3d printing. A makerbot is over $2k, a lulzbot is almost $2k. (It probably also doesn't help the cause that lulzbot sells 3d printed parts like this [lulzbot.com] or this [lulzbot.com] printed on the very same almost $2k machines that look like crap.) Even build-it-yourself machines cost close to $1k, not even factoring in time spent.

    Then there's filament at $40/kg, the occasional hotend replacement, material wasted on prints that don't come out or stop halfway, etc.

    The print quality and material strength is also questionable. PLA is water soluble so it doesn't work outdoors, cracks easily, on the other hand ABS releases toxic fumes when melted.

    It's hard to justify all that cost even for someone with money to burn to print a $20 stove knob, or odd $5 broken plastic pieces for a car's door to open. It's a great tool for rapid prototyping and for nerds, but not for mainstream.
  • by HEMI426 (715714) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @06:26PM (#43576617) Homepage

    You know what's holding 3D printing back? As someone that's fighting with one, I've got a few thoughts.

    I'm building a Prusa Mendel, with hardware mostly donated by a friend that also has a Prusa Mendel. It *should* be straightforward. It's not. At all. My friend and I got the frame built, but I brought everything else home to finish on my own.

    I managed to get the mechanical end sorted out fairly well, to the point where I need the entire printer to run right to get the rest of it dialed in. I managed to get the software side sorted pretty easily, too. The electronics, however, are proving to be a major pain.

    The machine has a few problems that I can not seem to sort out. The hot end temps vary wildly, in about a thirty-degree Celsius range...However, it's all built "right." At this point I'm going to build a second heatcore and replace the thermistor attached to the nozzle with a new one (that I had to order from somewhere else) in hopes that something is wrong with either of these two items.

    I am proficient with electronics assembly and repair, to the point where I build my own pedals to use with my bass, repair my own bass gear, repair other folks' pedals and gear, etc. I do computer software troubleshooting and programming for work, so I'm fairly proficient with that. I'm also a hard-core gearhead; I've been playing with mechanical things from guns to cars to motorcycles to machine tools and just about everything in between for as long as I can remember...But I'm having a hell of a time sorting out a *basic* 3D printer. I've spent the past three weeks of weeknights and weekends working on the thing and, honestly, I'm about ready to throw the whole pile in the trash and forget the whole thing.

    It doesn't help that no one local to me has any more experience with building these things than I do, and all the people that have pre-built 3D printers are also hating them right now...My old employer has a MakerBox Replicator 2X that they can not get to run right. It seems like the vendors themselves don't really know what's going on, either...The vendor I got the hot end parts kit from seems to supply wire that I would consider wholly inadequate for moving 12V@5A around, but apparently it works.

    The guy that supplied the parts for me to build my Prusa Mendel purchased a Rostock kit for no small amount of money...And is having all kinds of trouble getting it working right, too.

    What's holding back 3D printing? The fact that even people with higher-than-average technical proficiency in all the areas required to make a 3D printer run well are having problems with their 3D printers indicates that they are in no way ready for mainstream use.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:54PM (#43577673) Homepage

    The design software isn't the problem. The problem is that the low-end 3D printers suck.

    The ultraviolet stereolithography machines work fine, but so far, they cost too much. The Form 1 [kickstarter.com] machine ($2300) is supposed to ship Real Soon Now. That's probably the first low-end machine that will really work.

    The low-end plastic extruder approach (MakerBot, RepRap, Up, etc.) is fundamentally flawed. You're trying to weld a hot thing to a cold thing. That never works reliably. Cold solder joints and bad welds are the usual results of trying to do that in other materials. It sort of works for small objects where the previous layer doesn't have time to cool completely. But the time between one layer and the next being laid down has way too much effect on the weld quality. You need some way to heat the layer below the weld just before the weld, like a laser or a hot air jet. It probably would only take a few watts of laser power aimed at the join. You'd have to enclose and interlock the build area, as with a laser cutter, but that's not hard.

    The plastic extruder machines will probably go away once stereolithography gets cheaper. It's a sort-of-works technology. Printers went through this. There was wet electrostatic printing (Versatec), magnetic printing [ieee.org], ink jet printing by electrostatic deflection of a stream of ink drops [baudot.net], electrolytic printing (dates from the 19th century), and spark printing. Commercial products using all those technologies were manufactured and sold, but xerographic and ink jet technologies were just better.

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Monday April 29, 2013 @05:18AM (#43579033)

    The design tools have nothing to do with it.

    There is no marketable benefit of a 3D printer.
    It's cheaper to buy your plastic widget from China than to buy the ABS or PLA reels to print your own, so there is no cost benefit.
    There is no "plug and play" 3D printer that costs less than $1000. Try 10x that - So there is no ease of use benefit.
    It doesn't matter how easy the software is or how good it is, someone still needs to design what you want to print. Mr or Miss Consumer doesn't have the skill or effort to do so.
    It's not instant. Printing a complex object takes hours upon hours. You could get some things delivered overnight quicker than it takes to print them.
    You can't print everything. Sure its nice to print some xmas decorations, but you can't print a chip. Your widget is going to be plastic and plastic only (or what ever other material your printer prints).

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