Most inventions invite both praise and ridicule in equal measure. Some see them as the solution to all our problems and others a useless piece of junk.
It wasn’t so long ago when the first PCs were produced that eminent experts of the day said there would never be more than a few thousand PCs ever made, let alone needed – now we can barely imagine a home without one or, often, many of them.
So too does the 3D printer invite both supporters who see them as likely to be in every home within 10 years, and critics who point out that actually most people have no creativity and wouldn’t know what to make if they had one.
Even the manufacturing community, for whom the ability to make almost anything from a computer diagram should be at least an intriguing concept, appears split by the possibilities 3D printing could bring.
An article by Allister Heath in the Telegraph certainly falls into the enthusiastic supporter camp.
The article calls this a hair-raising technology that is about to tear apart existing structures in modern manufacturing. With the costs of the machinery nearing mass-market levels, 3D printing is poised to take off, the article predicts, blurring the distinction between digital and physical realms, democratizing manufacturing and turning large chunks of the global economy upside-down.
Drawing analogies with the way digital music downloads have bypassed the traditional high street stores – indeed, how the Internet has enabled self-publishing by authors and music artists to sell directly to the public – he suggests 3D printers will splinter the “big is beautiful” mass-manufacturers’ dominance of the market and create new opportunities for locally (for which read: onshore) based businesses to appeal to buyers’ individual needs, be they other corporate clients or the general public.