6.01.2013

3D thoughts

I recently ranted (at some length) in a comment thread regarding 3D printing. While I am a huge fan of technology in general, I have reservations and observations in this case.

3D printing is constantly being presented as being "all things to all people". It slices, it dices, it makes julienne fries. Nothing is beyond its capabilities.

One industry big shot has even gone so far as to proclaim that owning a 3D printer will automatically make you into an Industrial Designer. Presumably it will work the the same way digital cameras & photo printers made everyone into Ansel Adams, and word-processors made everyone into Ernest Hemmingway. Pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Hey, I just bought some scalpels, come and see me for your next elective surgery! 
No, I won't hold my breath waiting for your arrival.

With the advent of 3D scanning requiring no special hardware, an STL file can be generated for (almost) any object outline. The ability to transmit files anywhere in the world at the push of a button means that (virtually) no shape is out of reach of any person or locale. The plethora of problems associated with music and video piracy will pale in comparison.

If you're just talking about semi-functional representations of a real item, or as proof-of-concept, or as a development tool, then 3D printing is an acceptable route. When the finish level improves such that extensive secondary operations are no longer required, I'll adopt the technology for model-making. But I won't (for the foreseeable future) use it to make a hammer that I'd try to drive nails with.

It takes REAL skills and knowledge, that most people do not have and are not willing to obtain, to MAKE REAL THINGS. Any slack-jawed troglodyte can push a button to generate a COPY of someone else's work (see RIAA and MPAA note above).

People with the necessary skills are certainly out there making great things, but just owning a tool is not going to magically convey the hard-won abilities necessary for using it. 3D printers do not generate items with the true material properties of the original. In some cases, the resultant attributes may be sufficient, but not under all circumstances. 

Ultimately, making useful, functional and/or beautiful things depends on the talent of the maker, not upon the tools they use.