RIP 3D Printing 4 : Death to the 3D Printing Evangelists, May they All Become Saints


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We’ve previously explored how 3D printing, initially fueled by investor funding, faced slow growth when only targeting adventurous early adopters. Rapid applications may be a potential catalyst for faster industry growth. However, as the additive manufacturing (AM) industry matures, it must shed certain youthful pimples – behaviors, habits, and individuals that hinder our progression toward a larger, more advanced industry.

Thieves of Our Future

The 3D printing sector’s journey to prominence has encountered setbacks, influenced by complex macroeconomic and geopolitical factors. The adage, “May you live in interesting times,” often regarded as a curse, reflects our challenging era. While not all obstacles are our making, some are indeed due to our leniency towards deceptive individuals within our ranks. We’ve allowed liars, opportunists, and PT Barnums too much leeway. Their presence, sustained by our silence and acquiescence, has hindered our progress. As we embark on a new phase, focused on producing critical components like aircraft parts and medical implants, it’s imperative to distance ourselves from these detrimental influences. During our industry’s expansionist phase, it was easy to overlook the negative impact of such characters, mistaking them for necessary kindling for the fire. But as we advance, the need to mature becomes evident. The continued presence of these malign actors risks not only our reputation but also our potential.

We must recognize that indulging these harmful elements any longer could extinguish the very innovation we strive to nurture. It’s time to outgrow our adolescent imperfections and embrace a future unburdened by those who threaten to derail our journey. This is a crucial moment to assert our commitment to ethical progress and responsible growth in an industry increasingly integral to numerous critical applications.

Olive Trees not Branches

A significant issue with how our industry is perceived stems from certain individuals making overzealous promises without a full understanding of the technology. They have led us astray with their grandiose claims, portraying 3D printing as a panacea with almost magical properties. My only consolation regarding “3D printing evangelists” is knowing from scripture that many of them meet with profoundly horrific deaths. However, the reality is far removed from their naive depictions. 3D printing is not a cure-all solution; it’s not snake oil or some mystical potion that can miraculously transform businesses. It’s not a simple, all-purpose aid for corporate stagnation. 3D printing is not hamburger helper for the Dunder Mifflins of this world. Just take two drops of 3D printing in the AM and you too will become innovative and grow. 3D Printing is not play dough for everything that is not play dough.

The Xtra Large is the Message

3D printing is a tool, a technology replete with complexities and nuances. Each process within it varies significantly, influenced by a myriad array of variables across machines, materials, and designs. It’s a powerful tool, but its true potential is unlocked only by those willing to invest substantial time and effort into understanding its intricacies. The reality of 3D printing is that it’s neither simple nor straightforward, and much of it remains uncharted territory. We acknowledge that while it can create a wide array of items, perfection in every creation is not always achievable.

Contrary to this reality, 3D printing has been oversold by the evangelists as a sort of magical solution, a cure-all for all corporate sins. They’ve portrayed it as an effortless fix, misleading people with the notion that merely acquiring a 3D printer can set everything right. However, this portrayal has led to unrealistic expectations, with machines that fail to meet promises, ideas that don’t materialize, and projects that end in disappointment.

We must confront these misconceptions with honesty, emphasizing the real challenges, complexities, and the level of investment required to effectively utilize 3D printing. It’s time to shift the narrative from the oversimplified claim that “3D printing can do everything easily” to a more accurate message. We should communicate that “3D printing is a groundbreaking technology suited for creating specific shapes that outperform traditional methods in certain applications,” and that “while mastering 3D printing is challenging, it’s a manufacturing technology capable of producing millions of essential parts.” Our message should highlight that 3D printing isn’t universally accessible but offers immense value to those who master it. This approach, distinct from the oversimplified and overhyped perceptions, will set a realistic expectation of what 3D printing can truly offer.

Gurus and Nelson Mandela

If your best friend had a guru, you’d likely be concerned. So why do we tolerate self-proclaimed gurus on LinkedIn? Why engage with individuals who boast about themselves in their profiles, labeling themselves as award-winning leaders and breakthrough innovators? Consider Nelson Mandela – if he were alive and had a LinkedIn profile, would he label himself as an “inspirational hero,” “award-winning author,” ¨guru¨, or “Former President of South Africa?” Despite being one of the most respected and beloved figures globally, it’s doubtful he would use such self-aggrandizing titles, even if in his case they are all true. What might Mandela’s LinkedIn byline be? Perhaps simply “South African,” “African,” or even just “Human” – terms that wouldn’t elevate him above others but would embrace his warm and inclusive nature and embrace us all.

Those who most vigorously seek respect often don’t deserve it, as they may lack self-respect and respect for others. True accomplishment and wisdom are recognized by those in the know, maintaining their stature in an ever-diluting concentric circles of knowledge. In contrast, those who lack genuine achievements often find themselves needing to create their own fireworks and parades.

PT Barnum: The Show Must Not Go On

PT Barnum is commonly known as a huckster and fraudster, often viewed benignly as a circus showman who gained fortune by deceiving gullible audiences with exaggerated shows. However, he was more than that; he was a philanthropist and a notable Mayor of Bridgeport, recognized for bringing street lights and a hospital to the city. He even resigned from his pro-slavery party due to his opposition to the horrific practice. But it’s crucial to note Barnum’s earliest work at the age of 25.

¨He gained his first break by purchasing and displaying Joice Heth, a blind and almost completely paralyzed enslaved woman, whom he falsely presented as George Washington’s 161-year-old former nurse. Taking advantage of a loophole, despite slavery being outlawed in New York, he leased Heth for a year for $1,000, borrowing half this amount to complete the transaction. He forced her to work excessively long hours, and after her death in February 1836, at no more than 80 years old, Barnum held a live autopsy in a saloon to prove her age, charging spectators 50 cents each.¨

People are often seen as either good or bad, complex, flawed but well-intentioned, or as sinners who have repented. Our understanding of others is clouded by the story arcs and tropes of fiction, movies and TV. Our lives are filled with various decisions, mistakes, and changes, leading us to grow and, hopefully, improve. We all have flaws. However, Barnum’s actions demonstrate a level of moral depravity and evil that distinguishes him significantly from most people. This recounting challenges the commonly held perception of Barnum as merely a playful trickster or a charming historical figure known for harmless showmanship. Instead, it reveals him as a person whose actions were not just deceptive but deeply morally reprehensible, making him, in the end, the greatest illusion of all.

The 1%. Not that 1%—Although..

It is estimated that psychopaths constitute about 1.2% of the population, while those with sociopathic tendencies might range from 1 to 4%. Working in the 3D printing industry, these statistics were surprising to me; I had expected the numbers to be much higher. Direct confrontation with a sociopath is generally not advisable; distancing oneself is often a safer and more effective strategy. However, as an industry, we cannot afford to ignore the presence of these detrimental individuals. While evangelists may eventually lose their influence, those with deceitful and manipulative traits can persist, their actions potentially leading to substantial harm due to their acquired wealth and power.

Addressing this issue remains complex. One potential approach could be establishing a sort of cordon sanitaire, a strategy to avoid any meaningful interaction with such harmful individuals. But the effectiveness of this approach is uncertain. Is it the right course of action, or should we rely on the market to naturally correct these excesses? The answer isn’t clear, and it’s a question worth pondering as we consider the best way to protect and advance our industry.

We Must Discard the Clowns and Showmen

Growth is often accompanied by discomfort and challenges, introducing a new set of sensations and experiences. As our industry prepares to transition into its next phase, maintaining the status quo is no longer viable. Continuing with “business as usual” risks adopting the detrimental behaviors of a few, potentially impacting everyone in the industry. This moment calls for us to be proactive – akin to putting on flea collars – to avoid being burdened with problems in the future. We are presented with a unique opportunity to distance ourselves from those elements that are not only unnecessary but also pose a threat to our collective progress. It’s essential to move away from individuals who lack ethical principles. Failing to do so might lead us down a path similar to the volatile worlds of cryptocurrency and Bitcoin, where our successes and failures become inextricably linked to these unreliable and unpredictable persons.

Images Creative Commons Attribution: Jon Evans, tmmb and rjp.

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