3D Printing Hype

3D Printing Insider Myths and Truths


3D Printing Worries for Marketers – How Can You Protect Your Own Intellectual Property?

The premise that all things are conceivably digital content could be a powerful planning and development tool for marketers. If every product is ultimately intellectual property (a secret recipe or unique configuration of rare parts), how do you not just promote but protect it? If the product underlying your brand promise no longer exists in physical space, but literally pops into existence when consumers create it, what are you promising, exactly? As every aspect of the consumer purchase equation changes and/or shifts, doesn’t it affect your definition of what the “brand” is with which they’re engaging? Will 3D printing branding be a part of your brand?

The brands that survive this evolution will both embrace the steps along the way (like homemade packaging), and enable its advancement, perhaps even promoting it as a benefit to consumers. The rationale for considering such activities now is simple: Look what happened to the industries impacted by the last wave of digitization. Nothing is the same, and many categories are still struggling to define not only what their brands stand for, but how they can make money. Wasn’t it a lot more obvious to them that text could be created for free online, or music reduced to sharable binary bits? Even with that explicit warning, lots of brands were slow to respond, if not wholly unable to do so.

The time when your consumers use replicators like those on Star Trek may be in the future but, like most sci-fi, its not really fantasy as much as future fact imagined in the present. You need to come to terms with it.


3D Printing Law – Does Copyright Law Cover 3D Printed Materials?

The U.S. Constitution states that our patent and copyright law should “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Two centuries later, the debate about what to promote and what to protect through copyright law continues. Recently, the House Judiciary Committee began an overdue examination into whether the copyright laws need updating as it considered the legality of uploading copyrighted files to peer-to-peer networks. But politicians are overrun by armies of lobbyists and their PACs, all trying to strengthen rather than loosen the copyright monopoly Congress bestows. Thankfully, technology moves quicker than Congress and such innovations as the VCR and personal video recorder survived misguided legislative murder attempts.

Our challenge now is to make sure the 3D printing ecosystem does not die death from a thousand cuts.

Thingiverse, a website that allows people to post and share designs for 3D printers, has been fielding Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices since at least 2011. Last year, the company that owns the rights to the Tintin comics issued a takedown notice to Thingiverse over a toy design uploaded by one of the site’s users. The original design – for a simple model based on a rocket from the comic – was removed, but another popped up in its place.

The Tintin rocket is a great, small-scale example of the potential for collaboration and innovation in 3D printing. Though the original design was removed from Thingiverse, another user posted a similar design for a Christmas tree ornament based on the rocket. And someone else modified the idea so it could be illuminated, and then redesigned it again so other users could personalize the ornament with their names or other text. Out of just one idea, at least three new products were created, each improving on the last and providing a product that wouldn’t have otherwise been available. Innovation in 3D printing isn’t just about replicating things. It’s about taking an idea and modifying it to make something even better.

The same example illustrates just how inadequate our copyright system can be at protecting intellectual property, while fostering an environment that allows innovation to thrive in the wake of new technologies. Rights holders need to move away from suing or threatening to sue every potential copyright violator, and embrace a system that makes it easy and affordable for at-home 3D printers to access legal and licensed designs. iTunes’ licensing model is a good example. Just as the recording industry has adapted to digital music downloads and found revenue in other areas like touring and merchandise, the creative content and manufacturing industries will have to adapt to 3D printing. And we’ll all be better off for it, with more access to unique, innovative products and services.

It took more than 20 years from the Copyright Act of 1976 to the establishment of “safe harbors” with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. Yet the Internet now puts the world within our reach in ways no one imagined 40 years ago, that were just glimmers of possibility at the turn of this century when DMCA was passed. We can’t let another 20 years go by before we enact appropriate policies that work in today’s constantly changing Internet era.


3D Printing Doubts – 5 More Reasons 3D Printing Will Fail

1. Awaiting the breakthrough consumer model

Widespread consumer adoption will depend on 3D printers dropping in price. Currently, printers less than $1,000 use a DIY-style kit that requires assembly of the machine itself and they often don’t replicate the CAD designs accurately. But, relatively cheap 3D printers do exist. At $299, the Printrbot Simple is an affordable option, though it is very basic and can’t print high-quality products. Also well under $1,000 is RepRap’s open-source line of printers, which have to be assembled separately. The Cubify Cube is about $1,300 and probably the best desktop option since it connects to wifi, but its plastic filament can’t make anything too sturdy.

For the most part, anything bigger or better than these costs well into the thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars. The MakerBot Replicator 2 runs at about $2,200, which was also the roundabout figure for a top-of-the-line computer in the 1980s. Until reliable, convenient, sleek 3D printers hit the market, the revolutionary effects of the technology will be stymied.

2. Expense of SLS printers

Major patents on selective laser sintering (SLS) printers expired in January, so perhaps the prices of these machines—which run as high as $250,000 will decrease. When the patents on fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers expired, there was an explosion of open source FDM printers that led the technology to become a hobby. The best example was MakerBot, which launched as the most well-known FDM printer almost immediately after the FDM patent expired.

SLS printers offer the ability to print with more materials such as glass, metal, plastic, and ceramic, but with the high-powered lasers comes a higher manufacturing price. It may never be as cheap as an FDM machine, and therefore may take a longer time to catch on in the consumer market, if at all.

3. Patents and legal murkiness

This year, many patents on 3D printers will expire, possibly creating more competition, innovation, and lower prices. However, there are still quite a few overlapping patents out there, however, which causes a lot of murkiness. During the last decade, the Patent and Trademark Office has received more than 6,800 3D printing patent applications. Since 2007, almost 700 patents have been filed annually.

Another intellectual property issue comes with what the machines are printing. Right now, it’s easy to log on to Shapeways and download a CAD file of just about anything. But soon, there will be lawsuits and competition between brands over knockoffs and copyright infringement.

4. The usefulness gap

Sure, plastic action figures, iPhone cases, and Star Wars-themed novelties are fun to design and print with a relatively affordable desktop 3D printer like the Cube, but they aren’t exactly impactful on our everyday lives, nor are they convincing consumers the machines are a worthy investment.

“There’s no compelling application in the present time because anything you can print on a 3D printer, besides from things that are truly customized, you can buy at a store,” said Pete Basiliere, lead Gartner analyst for 3D printing. He said a compelling consumer application—something that can only be created at home on a 3D printer—will hit the scene by 2016.

5. Plastic filament isn’t sturdy enough

For the foreseeable future, the cheapest and most accessible 3D printers will be FDM. These are the desktop printers that use PLA and ABS plastic, which easily melt and fit small molds. However, the plastic isn’t sturdy and not many household products with moving parts can be created from the material. Printers will need to use carbon composites or metals to become more useful to the average consumer, as well as manufacturers.


5 Reasons 3D Printing Won’t Catch On

1. Before the majority of Americans could wrap their heads around how 3D printing works, a man named Cody Wilson designed, printed, and successfully fired a 3D printed gun. The STL file was available for free on his website the next day, and 100,000 people downloaded it before the U.S. Department of State ordered him to take it down. Since an all-plastic 3D gun probably won’t catch on, other companies are working on using SLS technology to print a metal one. So, in December 2013, Congress voted to renew an expiring ban on plastic firearms that could slip past metal detectors, though it didn’t add any new restrictions on plastic guns. Philadelphia was the first city to ban 3D printed firearms. A Chicago lawmaker wants to make it illegal to use a 3D printer to make gun parts unless the user has a federal gun manufacturer’s license.

Wilson’s plastic 3D printed gun showcased these loopholes in the law and caused an uproar across the country about the potential dangers of 3D printing technology. Whether you agree with it or not, the ability to easily print and distribute weaponry will surely cause skepticism about this technology for some time.

2. 3D printers aren’t that user-friendly

Setting up a 3D printer will need to be as easy as hooking up a traditional HP printer. The 3D printer needs to have fewer wires than a television and fewer buttons than a computer for it to become a household electronic, and right now, that’s not the case. The printers use high-voltage power supplies and specialized equipment and parts. Some of the cheapest printers can’t even connect to wifi and most have low resolution.

Because of the hype around the potential and the cute plastic toys that they produce, 3D printers have come across as easier and more useful than they actually are. The best products that have been created—think tools, musical instruments, car parts—are made using huge, high-end printers that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those sub-$1,000 machines that sit on a desk just aren’t going to be as productive.

3. Complex design software

Downloadable files from Thingiverse and Shapeways are easy to get, but they are not moderated and therefore may not work on every type of printer. If you want to design your own file, you need a working knowledge of CAD design. Setting up the model and using the printer takes quite a bit of patience and time, which is another reason the technology has primarily been used by enthusiasts up to this point.

4. 3D printers are still slow

3D printers are great for mass customization, but are still too slow for manufacturing lots of objects. To change the manufacturing industry, the parts need to be printed in minutes, not hours. It currently takes anywhere from several hours to several days to print, depending on the size of the model and the quality of the printer. Receiving an order from Shapeways, the company that customizes and 3D prints a variety of products, can take up to two weeks, depending on the materials used.

5. Safety concerns

The FDM printers, which use plastic filament, are relatively safe to use—they are often made for desktops and contain both the mold and the residue—but they aren’t foolproof, and they reach very high temperatures.

Powder-based printers are messy and potentially explosive depending on what is being made from them. They operate at extremely high temperatures and produce waste. It’s not something a consumer would want in their home office. Indoor air quality and the emissions from 3D printers, particularly SLS printers, are also cause for concern.