friday-rant

Rant: 3D Printing - The Emperor's New, New Clothes

Have you ever wanted to produce poor-quality tchotchkes that make toy plastic soldiers from the 1970s look like the sculpture of Michelangelo? Have you ever wanted to create a new wave in sending resin blobs to landfill sites? Do you want to spend a large amount of money on another device that will shortly join the Breville sandwich toaster/ice-cream maker/SodaStream in the loft or yard? Do you want to be known as the guy who bought that piece of junk gathering in the corner of the office? Do you HATE taking advantage of how the internet made it cheap and simple to specify and buy unique products? Then you’ll LOVE 3D printing.

Decisions, decisions. It’s fairly well known that the Roman Emperor Caligula made his horse Incitatus a senator. The Beatles and the blockbuster movie franchise ET were both turned down. The San Francisco Chronicle thought Californian readers wouldn’t be interested in a story breaking in Washington DC… Watergate. You too can join this list of the mad, bad and dangerous (to your pockets) to know.

I’m pretty sure that today’s 3D printers will be the digital age’s Ford Edsel: an interesting product idea that has been hopelessly oversold and is beset by jam-today promises, ignoring the facts of shoddy, ill-executed reality. Or else, think of 3D printers as the Emperor’s New Clothes. There's lots of hype but nothing there; it's sausage sans sizzle. If you try them out or look at what they ‘print’ dispassionately, it’s just junk, and expensive junk at that. It’s not even a real category. We’ve been using computers to design things and control factory outputs for years.

This isn’t new or useful; it’s just that somebody thought it might be a good idea to put miniature factories into offices and homes. It’s as if we all thought it a wheeze to generate our own electricity, like JP Morgan's house before power became a utility. It's collective madness and mania led by commentators seeking new, shiny things, gizmos, gadgets and gewgaws.

With so many holes in the argument for it, how the heck did 3D printing produce even a scintilla of interest and cash? Because we live in an age of micro-memes, endemic attention deficit, spare wealth and crowdfunding.

None of which makes 3D printing any less of a stupid, stupid affair.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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