Bits flow through our lives. The modern world is permeated by information being broadcast continuously. If we walk today, we are accompanied by accelerometers, gyroscopes, motion and light sensors taking it all in. We transmit our location second by second as the phone counts our steps. My FitBit is asking me to share my mood with it because this it cannot sense yet, but it can measure my skin temperature and make an electrocardiogram.
There are over one billion surveillance cameras on the planet. People spend a bit less than seven hours a day online. We work digitally, we meet digitally, we live digitally. We spend our working days building things in the cloud. When we’re free, we upload pictures of our food and build the businesses of others in the cloud, too. We’re like constant miners pressed into service in the cloud mines. We log our lives and touch our cellphones 2,617 times a day on average.
The infosphere now gives us our worldview, our news, our entertainment, our ideas. It is also valued by investors and the stock market. Its influence over the planet is close to absolute. Tech entrepreneurs wish to go further. They’d like to digitize our glasses so that we always look through their lenses. As a matter of fact, we’re already almost always looking through their lenses but they’d like to make sure to know that we are. Companies like Meta are aiming to create a virtual world for us to play in and enmesh themselves even more into our lives through augmented and virtual reality. Humans are more cyborg by the minute.
The additive manufacturing (AM) industry seems tiny in comparison to the data giants and their planned futures for our lives. We have sold several million desktop 3D printers, but we are not central to the way ordinary individuals operate in the world. Even for the determined aficionado, 3D printing today is a nice activity or perhaps a deep passion. We can use 3D printing to ameliorate our lives in all sorts of interesting ways, but even if we print daily, we touch our phones and laptops more than we do our 3D printers. I have 3D printed keychains, clamps ,and keepsakes a plenty, but they comprise only a small chunk of all of my detritus. 3D printing does not figure in the world’s imagination and it does not figure centrally in our own lives. If we wish to make a real impact on the globe, then we must do more.
Better 3D Printers and Software
One thing is obvious and that is that desktop systems have to become more reliable. Slicing; first layers; filament management storage, and conditioning have to be easier. Stereolithography (SLA) systems must have safer resins. Overall, 3D printing software should be ¨one-click,¨ but it should also intelligently optimize prints. Components on 3D printers need to be of higher quality and settings drift has to be avoided. Best settings for open materials should be shared.
Most of all, however, CAD needs to become much easier. We should be able to sculpt objects in the air above our phones. CAD should be easier than sketching and give us manifold 3D printable files. These recommendations are obvious and should come within time. Indeed, the recent past has given me much optimism about the further development of desktop 3D printers.
Objects that Touch Our Lives
We should also focus on objects that touch our lives. I’ve said before that, eventually, we will 3D print everything that matters. What I meant is that AM will materialize the things that are important in your life. Your hip and jawbone, teeth and chests, of course. But, also a grip for a golf club, if golf is important to you. A helmet, if you care about biking and safety. A custom steering wheel, if you car is an extension of you.
We have to materialize peoples´ passions. We must be the path to caring about yourself. The most important things have to be 3D printed. The things that touch us all day, such as watch bands, jewels, glasses, computer mice, and chairs. The most comfortable chair should be a 3D printed one. The most premium baseball glove should have 3D printed inserts. The best bike should be 3D printed. The best car headrest should be 3D printed.
I’m always interested in 3D printed glasses, such as those from HOYA, Givenchy, and King Children. Glasses are fashion items that we can see enhancing our beauty, faces, and style. They are lifestyle companions that we pay much more money for. And we wear glasses all day or during a big part of nice moments, in the case of sunglasses.
Passion, Personal, Perfection
The best 3D printed products for consumers happen at the center of a Venn diagram for passion, personal, and perfection. The user must have a passion for the product, what it signals, or what it does for them. They must also have feelings about the product. It must be visceral to them. And they would need to derive pleasure or security out of this product being perfect. If these conditions are met, the increased cost or time spent obtaining the object could actually be a benefit to the user in making them work for that one perfect item.
In a world filled with so much flotsam and jetsam, with ever more disposable stuff, we risk never being satisfied with the things that we buy. However, if you have to pay to have something made just so, then it may make you believe that this perfect object will be built to last in the real world, despite the capricious changes in fast fashion and your own fickle nature.
3D printing will, if we do it right, make us avoid consumption by making more perfect objects for you. It is through making these objects that take up or are used for much of our lives that AM can begin to grow and become relevant for not just a happy few but for the millions of muggles that have not yet discovered 3D printing.
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