3D printing: Revolution or hype?

Moderated by Jason Hiner | April 14, 2014 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: A 3D printer in every home? The next industrial revolution? Our debaters struggle to separate fact from fiction.

Lyndsey Gilpin

Lyndsey Gilpin




Charlie Osborne

Charlie Osborne

Best Argument: Revolution


Audience Favored: Revolution (58%)

Closing Statements

3D printing is here to stay

Lyndsey Gilpin

The world of 3D printing is exciting and it is progressing at an extremely fast pace. It's easy to get caught up in the hype, and it's important to remember that a lot of the 3D printers on the market right now will not last, as they are not viable enough to compete with big companies. There are a lot of conversations that will occur regarding ethical concerns, specifically about bioprinting and gun printing, and IP concerns will continue throughout the next few years. However, with companies like GE and Boeing betting their money on additive manufacturing already, and HP about to enter the market this year, it's apparent that 3D printing is here to stay in the manufacturing industry, the healthcare industry, and in the consumer and small enterprise spaces. It will not only supplement the processes  already in place, but also replace many traditional ones with new technology.

Valuable? Absolutely. Revolutionary? Sadly not.

Charlie Osborne

3D printing is valuable, not only to businesses which can benefit from the reduced costs of manufacturing products and creating prototypes in the design stage, but for consumers who may enjoy lower price points as a result. The technology has applications in healthcare, construction and manufacturing, but is unlikely to be suitable as a household product beyond small, novelty printers which may be fun to print out gifts or designs, but no more than that.

While valuable, 3D printing lacks the "revolutionary" label as it will remain in the manufacturing space for a long time to come, and unlike mobile devices -- which I would label "revolutionary" due to market spread and often low cost -- 3D printers require heavy investment for the kit, materials and maintenance -- making it unsuitable for the average home. The technology is within a 'hype' stage, but eventually will find its niche within manufacturing and supply chains, novelty products and in the creation of prosthetics in healthcare.

More demand than anyone anticipated

Jason Hiner

Few topics in the tech world are generating as much real buzz as 3D printing in 2014. While the media has been obsessed with wearable computing this year, readers on tech sites are showing far more interest in 3D printing. As one software engineer told me the other day, "This is the next big thing I want." 

Lyndsey explained the optimism that has captured the emerging 3D printing industry, while Charlie did a great job of bringing us back to reality on some of the overly-enthusiastic sentiments about 3D printing.
Ultimately, I think this argument comes down to how widespread the demand will be for 3D printers. Charlie (and many others like Autodesk CEO Carl Bass) have argued that they won't be household appliances. However, if you look at Micro 3D, the $299 Kickstarter project that raised over $1 million in 24 hours, it's clear that there's a lot more demand than anyone anticipated. 
For that reason, I'm going to side with the crowd on this one: Revolution.


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  • It needs a "killer app."

    It needs a "killer app."

    What can you really use it for that will really put it over the top as something the average consumer will want?

    Right now, it seems to make sense for certain things, such as prototyping and creating one-off products. But I don't see what the mass appeal is yet.
    Reply 72 Votes I'm Undecided
    • There is already a killer app.

      Unfortunately, it is LITERALLY a killer app: untraceable guns. Sure, it takes gunsmithing skill and engineering savvy (to pick the right material and treat it properly after fabricating), but criminal gangs, terrorist groups, and revolutionary armies can get people with those skills for cash. At least for small arms like AK-47 clones, it may soon no longer be necessary for these non-governmental armies (which is what they are) to be clients of any outside government, or to depend upon the commercial (and presumably regulated by their own governments) arms manufacturers to equip their soldiers/thugs.
      Reply 57 Votes I'm Undecided
      • "killer app"? + id10t = potentail Darwin award.

        Anybody that know 3D printing will know not to make a gun with it. Plastic gets soft with heat and reform. Really bad idea for making guns. Good for Darwin awards. Lost wax casting with a 3D print is a better idea, but aluminum is not strong enough for a barrel. So bad idea. Use mild steel? Great- but now a real furnace are required. But you will still need to have a machine shop to build a good gun- clean of the product and to make everything fit.... There are loads of machine shops around - why are there no rants and raves about machine shops? youtube for Afghan lathe.
        Reply 32 Votes I'm Undecided
        • No "APP" can make sustainable materials

          Some multi Md'$ to invest in controlled environment powdermetal enclosures
          4 to make sustainable products.

          Can be used to speed up molds for die casting, but then one need a plant.

          One benefit though, is that one can make true three dimensional models
          that can be viewed in a way where both of our eyes synchronously focus
          on a true perspective planes, and hence,
          enhances our own supercomputer/brains capabilities in a way that rarely occurs
          while viewing emulated 3D on a flat screen.
          Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
    • We all know the killer app. Its not here....yet..


      Its one thing to produce a 3D printed object.

      What the killer app is, or would be, the ability to stick something you or your neighbor own in the printer housing, the object gets a 3D laser scan, you pull out the original and then you start grinding out as many replicates as you need or want.

      That's the killer app.

      And I for one find it very hard to believe it will not arrive one day. You can imagine the issues this will bring up!

      Think sending a copied version of a song online to be downloaded by anyone is trouble?

      Wait until you can make a 3D copy of just about anything that can go into a 3D printer and put that data online for anyone to download.


      Chew on that for awhile.
      Reply 60 Votes I'm Undecided
      • It will likely be a long time before we reach Star Trek quality and speed.

        I wouldn't expect anything like Star Trek replicators any time soon - certainly not within the first few generations of 3D printing.

        In your scenario, you mentioned laser scanning. There are two problems with this:

        1) You can't really tell the material used from the 2D scan. You could scan a painted metal object, and the printer will likely print a plastic object.

        2) It can't reach the insides of the object (unless you plan on destroying the original). You'd scan a watch, but the replica won't function like a watch; it would simply be a shell that looks like a watch.
        Reply 73 Votes I'm Undecided
        • Im totally aware of those restrictions...currently.

          And Im not talking Star Trek replicators either.
          What Im simply saying is that its entirely possible to create a rig that could scan a simple object, then print it off.

          Its not hard to foresee in some not too distant future a system that could actually create a 3D x-ray image of a product with the appropriate apps to code it up into a 3D printable object with some fairly sophisticated inside details.

          And remember, Im not saying "stay tuned for next week" here. Depending on a whole lot of things this could take a while. But there is already plenty of 3D scanning around of some fairly sophisticated parts.


          For example.

          When you have a moderate sized device that can scan an object then print off copies, that's going to be a game changer.

          You hear the complaints in the music industry about copying music takes away the incentive to produce music; which I would say arguably changes things but doesn't necessarily take away incentive to sing and play music, how about copying a 3D product? Typically the entire motive for producing a 3D object one would then sell is entirely profit driven. If you make just one and then half the world can produce cheaper copies at home....

          I can see how that could become an issue.
          Reply 48 Votes I'm Undecided
          • Or scan the blueprints...

            And the printer could potentially read the plans and construct the innards...
            Reply 60 Votes I'm Undecided
          • Blueprints - this is the 21st century

            Many parts never exist as a drawing (blueprint) in modern engineering / manufacturing. It's modelled, rendered and the cad file is used the machine the mould tool or cut sheet-metal. Often if a drawing does exist it's to support archaic systems and probably doesn't include all the detail required to manufacture the part - often they just include a few 'inspection' dimensions for validation.
            Reply 37 Votes I'm Undecided
    • a lot more than software

      it will be popular for make your own toy.
      But when the real product is made of steel, glass, titanium, etc.. it's a non starter.
      LlNUX Geek
      Reply 52 Votes I'm Undecided