While James Woodcock, Group Editor and Conference Director at TCT + Personalize, is passionate about the possibilities of 3D printing, he wants to make sure the hype surrounding the technology isn't overblown. It sets everyone up for a fall, he says.
"Consumers expecting to be able to 'make anything' at home will be sorely disappointed when they realize the limitations of the technology at every level," James says.
Like any manufacturing process, 3D printing has limitations, and many of those limitations are at the consumer end of the spectrum, he says. And because the mainstream coverage is read by all, it can lead to some potential industrial users to have the same inflated expectations.
"The key is making the most of the truly incredible things people are really doing with 3D printing right now," he says.
James recently checked in with us to discuss the most exciting aspects of the technology and how CAD workstations are evolving to make the most of it. Read on:
Tell us about TCT ...
TCT encompasses a portfolio of communications products: the printed magazine established in 1992, the TCT Show established in 1995 and a host of digital products including tablet apps, website, social media, etc. People are often surprised that as a brand, TCT has been involved in "3D printing" since 1992. Back then it was almost always called rapid prototyping or rapid manufacturing, but the developments in the technologies and applications has led to that being somewhat redundant - although rapid prototyping is still the major use of 3D printing.
What excites you about 3D printing?
The most exciting thing about 3D printing today is the possibility for tomorrow. 3D printing really covers dozens of technologies processing hundreds of materials for thousands of applications. The rate of development is increasing all the time, and the last five years have seen arguably more activity in the industry than the preceding 25. 3D printing is often touted as the "third industrial revolution," but really it is the breakdown of barriers between digital and physical workspaces that is facilitating the current sea change in the way we make things. Computing is still very much at the heart of this "revolution" through CAD and communication, with 3D printing representing one of the routes to realizing the digital world.
What do you think are the long-term implications of 3D printing as more businesses and consumers begin using the technology?
Professional and consumer 3D printing are at once very distinct and in the same breath inseparable - it all depends on the definitions used. If "consumer" 3D printing is defined simply as someone using a 3D printer in their bedroom, garage, shed or even kitchen, we have some way to go before we reach a critical mass - if indeed we ever will. Access to capabilities of 3D printing is, in my opinion, more likely to be through services that do the 3D printing on professional machines, for consumers. This depends on a huge part to the next generation of "digital natives" and their exposure to 3D design and print throughout their education.
In a business setting, things are more established, but we're only starting to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential applications. The rate of technological development really means that anything is still possible, given time.
What are the biggest headlines or most exiting innovations in your industry today?
In the last month or so, the big news has probably been HP entering the market with its new technology platform. The entry of such an established player will certainly have an effect, but no one can quite predict what that will be yet! Exciting innovations are mostly at the low-cost end of the industry, where innovation is always less inhibited, and in the development of applications. Medical, aerospace and automotive continue to push the boundaries and drive the technology forward.
What do you think are the most useful tools for someone designing for 3D printing?
As for designing for any manufacturing process: a realistic knowledge of the end output device. Designing for 3D printing really means designing with one of a number of production technologies in mind, and the capabilities vary wildly. The usual overhangs and wall thickness/feature size limitations apply broadly across the board, but designing a part that will be made in titanium on a SLM machine vs. a part made in PLA on a desktop FDM machine are like chalk and cheese.
How should CAD workstations evolve to accommodate the proliferation of 3D printing?
CAD vendors are really starting to take the wheel when it comes to 3D printing - Autodesk and their Spark platform and Ember 3D printer being a great example, SolidWorks and their work with 3D printing integration another. I think the changes will happen as a matter of course as 3D printing becomes an increasingly viable output method for digital files. Maybe free up a little room nearby (not too nearby, 3D printers can drive you mad with their noise) and get a cheap 3D printer to play with - who knows where it may lead.
What are some of your favorite 3D printers and accessories?
For contractual reasons, I don't have favorites... but accessories like the AstroPrint project are really interesting!