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3D printing overhyped, says design consultant

By James Snodgrass
Posted 1 October 2012

The future for 3D printing is “not so rosy” according to Todd Grimm, president of T A Grimm and Associates, in a keynote presentation during last week’s TCT conference in the UK, in which he urged the industry to adopt a more pragmatic approach.

In his address, Grimm planted “seeds of doubt” about additive manufacturing based upon the gulf between what is practical today and what is promised in the future.

Citing Gartner Research’s 2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies special report – which indicates that 3D printing is reaching the “peak of inflated expectations” – Grimm blames media hype for distorting the reality of what can be done today and what we can reasonably expect in the short term future.

Examples of media hype that Grimm identified included Airbus’s announcement at Farnborough that it was going to 3D-print aircraft. “What the media failed to tell you is that Airbus’s statement said ‘by the year 2050’… not a single component on an Airbus aircraft flying today is made with additive manufacturing.

He also cited the stop-motion animated film ParaNorman, which used 3D printed facial expressions. “What they failed to tell you,” said Grimm, “is that the producers did not save a single dollar or a single second.” What is important, he stressed, is that the producers had a new creative process to work with.

Grimm believes the hype has been fuelled by the introduction of consumer-level 3D printers. “At any time soon, the 3D printer will not become a staple in the household,” predicted Grimm.

He lambasted the low-cost machines because their manufacturers have not invested in their development and in user interfaces, relying instead on open source code. “Anyone could make one. What they are not doing is putting in the stability, the usability, the things that will actually make them work,” said Grimm.

But he suggested that the nascent consumer market will have an effect on the lower end of the professional market. He estimated that the two markets, consumer and professional, will converge at the $5,000 point.

“Additive manufacturing and 3D printing are a poor substitute for conventional manufacturing,” said Grimm. “The opportunity lies when you change the game. Stop looking at it as a direct substitute for injection moulding or die casting.”

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