Was Consumer 3D Printing a Fad or Were People Just Expecting Too Much? Hint: It’s Option Two

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FIDSGirl3Dprinter

“Tea. Earl grey. Hot.”

A recent editorial on Straits Times was lamenting the fact that, according to one person, last Christmas’ 3D printers are now gathering dust. And considering the hard sell that 3D printer manufacturers were pushing in 2014 it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that there were going to be some disappointed first adopters. For anyone familiar with 3D printing technology it would be easy to predict that a few people would be upset when they discovered that there was more to 3D printing than pushing a button and watching things magically appear. That is the endgame, certainly, but we’re obviously not there yet. But whose fault is that disappointment really, the companies selling 3D printers or the buyers who didn’t look into the technology a little closer?

Step right up and witness the spectacular third dimensional print-o-mography mechanism!

Step right up and witness the spectacular third dimensional print-o-mography mechanism!

I won’t pretend that many of the most successful 3D printing companies from 2014 didn’t spend the year acting more like carnival barkers than heads of technology businesses, because they most certainly did. Yes, the over-selling of what 3D printing could do and where it was as a consumer electronic device was occasionally cringe-inducing, but show me an emergent technology or consumer device that didn’t try to create hype for their product and I’ll show you what was most likely an unsuccessful product. The consumer experience with 3D printing may not be quite as simple as some people hoped, but it is undeniable that the media attention to 3D printing has only helped the industry.

Not only by educating the public about the existence of 3D printing, something many people didn’t even know existed in 2013, but the resulting flood of low-cost desktop machines quickly became an essential tool for many offices and startups. And doesn’t purchasing a new product always include the risk that said new technology would have a learning curve attached to it? The 3D printing carnival barkers may have done a lot of barking, but it wasn’t as if they were lying about anything. Other than maybe the quality of their specific printers at least.

The Straits Times article starts off by introducing us to Anne-Isabelle Choueiri, a 39-year-old digital consultant living in New York. After saying that the 3D printer that she purchased for her children for Christmas had been “recycled as a bedside table,” she continues by complaining that 3D printing takes time. It turns out that her kids’ $800 XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 AiO required some effort to make work, and somehow it’s the 3D printer’s fault. The editorial continues:

“The initial excitement for 3D printers in the home – producing toys and parts for broken gadgets and potentially becoming as commonplace as the PC – is wilting. Choueiri found her device fragile. And the results take time. A simple print of objects like a mini Eiffel tower or a lighthouse took two hours, and her kids, being kids, didn’t wait around.”

aio

This Da Vinci AiO is accused of requiring knowledge to be operated. How do you plead sir?

Choueiri doesn’t explicitly blame XYZprinting for her children’s disinterest in 3D printing, but the writer of the editorial certainly implies it. Ms Choueiri’s children being ‘kids’ and being unable to sit still probably isn’t what killed their interest in 3D printing, Ms Choueiri’s children not really being interested in 3D printing is a more likely culprit. The lame idea that kids are incapable of spending time on anything is just an intellectually lazy conclusion. Plenty of children have attention spans long enough to learn how to use a 3D printer, but only if it’s a subject that actually interests them, and not something purchased for them by a parent trying to force it on them.

My first question is a simple one, did Choueiri’s children actually want a 3D printer? Did they specifically ask for one? And if so, didn’t she bother to take five minutes to read about exactly what a 3D printer was or did she simply buy it for them because it was the year’s “hot toy”? Is a resulting fad really the responsibility of the manufacturer or is it the responsibility of the people who buy expensive things without understanding what they are?

But I don’t want to focus my ire on Ms Choueiri; parents buy things for their kids without thinking all the time, that’s hardly news. I’m more bothered by the editorial’s obvious lack of interest in writing a factual article about the 3D printing industry. Whether it’s an intentional skewing of the facts to gain attention in these clickbaity times, or an actual ignorance of the industry that they’ve chosen to write about, both are pretty unacceptable to me. Especially as they go on to blame this year’s Stratasys and 3D Systems stock woes on the idea that 3D printers are a flop with consumers, which was presented as fact with little supporting evidence.

3dp_carnival_barker

“Boy have I got an extruder to sell to you!”

Yes, both companies took some pretty serious financial hits this year, but that couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that both companies had a year of disastrous business decisions and released two terrible desktop 3D printers could it? The “flop” certainly hasn’t stopped several other 3D printer manufacturers from picking up the slack and releasing well designed printers that sold exceptionally well, often outselling Stratasys and 3D Systems by a wide margin. XYZprinting, Robo3D, Flashforge and LulzBot all had a spectacular year of sales, not to mention the little Kickstarted startup that could, Printrbot. It’s almost as if there is more to the 3D printing industry than its two publicly traded companies. Stock prices are indicators of the health of a specific company, not the entire industry.

However I am very sorry that Ms Choueiri’s children didn’t like their 3D printer. But just so I don’t have to suffer through any more articles like this, let me spell it out for you. Don’t buy your kids 3D printers unless it’s something that they really want and both of you are aware of what is involved in using them. I’d also like to say that I am more than willing to take the Choueiri children’s unused 3D printer off of their hands, I have plenty of 3D printing projects that I’d like to use it for. My first would be to 3D print the Straits Times a clue.

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