3D printing may be heralded for the ability to print everything from body parts to prosthetics, but the true breakthrough for the technology will come from the ability to print much simpler products, one researcher predicts.
Joshua Pearce, an associate professor at the Michigan Technological University, said 3D printing, a process that builds layers of plastic and other materials into a finished product, will go mainstream when consumers realize how much they can save from printing products they frequently use.
To prove this, Pearce and his research team picked 20 common household items that were listed on Thingiverse— a site that provides free designs for 3D printing— and compared the cost of printing those items with the cost of buying them. Items included smartphone accessories, a garlic press, a showerhead, spoon holder and more. Printing those items potentially saved consumers close to $2,000.
Even taking into account the cost of the printer — which can range from $350 to $2,000 — printing common items remains an attractive option for consumers looking to save money. Pearce estimates that 3D printers can pay for themselves within a few months depending on how many items users print.
"For the average American consumer, 3D printing is ready for showtime," Pearce said. "It would be a different kind of capitalism, where you don't need a lot of money to create wealth for yourself or even start a business. With the exponential growth of free designs and expansion of 3D printing, we are creating enormous potential wealth for everyone."
Additionally, Peace said the convenience and simplification of 3D printing is also contributing to greater adoption of the technology by a more mainstream audience. Pearce conducted the research with students Ben Wittbrodt, Alexandra Glover and John Loreto and faculty members Gerald Anzalone; Douglas Oppliger and John Irwin.