Will 3D printers become the newest must-have home accessory or not? This debate has lately taken on a zealous edge. I think both sides are missing an obvious point. Take a look at the average engineering office. How many professional engineers have a 3D printer on their desks? Not as many as you might expect. The fact is the majority of design engineers, who, one can claim, have a true daily need (rather than a want) for a 3D printer, don’t own one yet.
According to the 2012 Wohlers Report, the number of professional grade 3D printers, those that sell for more than $5000, was 6,494 in 2011. There are surely more than 7,000 design engineers in the U.S. What’s stopping them from obtaining a 3D printer?
Even with the latest professionally geared desktop units, like Stratasys Mojo, Objet’s 30Pro, and 3D Systems ProJet 1500, a majority of design engineers do not have a 3D printer. Price may have been an issue, but some of these printers are available for a monthly lease of a couple hundred dollars per month. Thus, price can no longer be viewed as serious obstacle for the pros owning a 3D printer.
So my question is, if professional engineers are not rushing to buy the latest 3D printers in record numbers, why would the average person buy one? (Because it’s so cool, while true, is not an answer.)
I think the real issue with professional users is the lack of materials that simulate the specifications engineers’ need/want for their designs. And I think materials will inhibit home use as well, in terms of cost, availability, performance, and environment.