The Reports of 3D Printing’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

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You can't win 'em all.

You can’t win ’em all.

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” – Mark Twain  

Like most, I revel in the idea of an argument I can win, so when our editor-in-chief asked if I’d like to take on the latest codswallop (yes, she really uses that word) regarding the impending apocalypse of 3D printing, I was all ears, fueled up after lunch and fingers ready to fly on the keyboard again. And that they were, after sitting back for a minute, feet up on the desk, enjoying John Brandon’s cautionary tale about the disappointments of attempting to make drink holders at the desktop. It’s an emotional subject for many of us to talk about, I’m aware, but as it apparently signals the breakdown of a multi-billion-dollar industry that suddenly lacks a product altogether, let’s give this some attention. Even Chuck Hull himself might be concerned at these new developments—after all, when you buy a car or bike or even a 3D printer now—we know it is all about the cupholders.

Truthfully though in considering this subject, the only way someone could convince me 3D printing is on the verge of gasping its final, rattling, cagey breaths—spitting out a few last Harley Davidson keychains and kitschy spoon rests—ready to melt down into obscurity, would be to offer a major surprise. What’s better? 4D printing? 5D?  Bioprinting in outer space? I’m hearing crickets, so in that case, here’s some food for thought before indeed you do ‘stick a fork in it’ and declare that the kitchen is burning down with no help on the way.

Surgeons were able to make a 3D printed model of the baby’s skull. [Image: CEN]

Surgeons were able to make a 3D printed model of the baby’s skull before surgery to reverse craniosynostosis. [Image: CEN]


Let’s talk saving babies for a minute. That tends to get everyone’s attention, and rightly so—it’s heartbreaking to see a tiny being who has barely had a chance to understand what life is endure suffering. Using 3D models and 3D printed surgical guides, astounding progress has been made in operating rooms around the world, allowing doctors to train for and proceed with procedures that otherwise were not possible, from a baby in China whose craniosynostosis was completely reversed thanks to 3D printing to conjoined twins who were separated thanks to the magic of 3D scanning and 3D models and guides. This goes far beyond one of us having the convenience of a 3D printed appliance that’s cheaper or prettier or a car part that we were able to make from the desktop.


There’s an awful lot of money flowing out from major corporations who tend to think a lot before getting out the checkbook. Now that we’ve finished with the saving of young lives and kittens in 3D printed wheelchairs, let’s talk about the big boys with the big bucks and the big research teams who are going the distance with 3D printing and additive manufacturing, in a global way.


I’d like to know who is going to break the news to companies like GE. They’ve spent many millions on opening new additive manufacturing facilities from the US to India and they are currently testing the largest jet engine, featuring 3D printed fuel nozzles.  And after that, we’re going to have head over to NASA and have a talk with them about that new 3D printed rocket they think they are sending into space with a technology that’s already expiring. I wonder if they’ve heard the news.


3D printed water pump wheel component used by BMW.

Let’s tell BMW that it’s all over too, despite their recent celebration over using 3D printing for 25 years. And lastly, but most importantly, it’s time to talk to some of the manufacturers like XYZprinting of Taiwan and make sure they know that “It’s really hard to sell a product that barely even exists anymore.” Despite that they sold more desktop 3D printers than anyone else last year—and added 11 new products to their ecosystem this year. Let’s ask them how they feel about cupholders. And figurines. I’m thinking they can jam a few out for Mr. Brandon, free of charge and with no hard feelings.


Children are running circles around us at school with 3D printing labs being created around the world at every educational level—with one innovation after another making headlines—like middle schoolers creating 3D printed prosthetics for other children in developing countries with no hopes for having a device like that otherwise. One librarian at a school in Colorado told me that they now see kids in the library who they never saw once before, and now they want to get involved, ask questions, even stay late. A lot.


Students at Crossroads Intermediate School in South Carolina designed and 3D printed prosthetics for children in need. [Image: Bob Leverone]

It’s also very important to take into account the progress the STEM agenda is having around the world thanks to the enthusiasm brought about by 3D printers and a plethora of free design programs to choose from. So while the joy of kids making things surely isn’t a tell all as to how things are going in an industry—they are consumers—and they are our future. And one of their pressing questions right now is, “When can we get a 3D printer at home?” I have a feeling they could handle the cupholder issues too, hassle or not.


Is fear talking here? I must wonder, considering all of the aforementioned examples, why anyone would be considering opening up the lab (or spaceship) window and throwing out that 3D printer that’s doing so much good. We’re just getting started! No doubt though, for some this technology is frightening with all of its bells and whistles, and veritable magic. Plus, if these godforsaken things stick around, we might be expected to really learn how to use them. We might have to buy them for our kids. We might be faced with the idea of watching others learn how to design original parts, pieces of art, and more while we sit on the sidelines scowling and feeling inferior.


3D printing is extremely significant for change. That can be scary for many, and so of course we have to bring out the age-old comparison of when computers and PCs hit the mainstream. By the standards of many, they were considered to offer up a challenging learning curve and well, could even possibly take over the world in a very bad way. All that newness is bad, bad! And why bother with using an Excel program for balancing my checkbook and doing my finances—isn’t my little old-fashioned paper register good enough? Yes, it is, so keep using it! And don’t bother spending twelve hours 3D printing a silly model you can go buy somewhere else expediently.

Don’t make life hard on yourself, and don’t let the tools be the dictators—but keep in mind that one day it might be you or a loved one who benefits from a 3D printed implant. It might be your child who creates an incredible work of art or starts their own business one day, running a mini-factory in their own living room. It also might be your child who one day has an incredible job thanks to the 3D printing skillsets they learned in their school lab, taking a high-paying job at a company that is begging them to come on board. The technology is there and the options are limitless. The only question is what you want to make and if you have the gumption to figure out how to do it.

So is 3D printing dying? Perhaps for those wasting their time on codswallop. What are your thoughts on the subject? Discuss this topic further in the 3D Printing Death Exaggerated forum over at

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