Consumer 3D Printing

Consumer users of 3D printing technologies and 3D printed products were the last category to emerge. This category includes primarily adopters of consumer 3D printing technologies, as well as adopters of 3D printed products.

These are actually two very different targets for the AM industry. The first and most relevant category for the future of AM is made of regular consumers who purchase 3D printed products because these offer better characteristics than traditionally manufactured products. The second category is made of enthusiasts and hobbyists who have purchased a 3D printer as a garage tool to further explore the production of DIY products such as drones, miniature models, RC cars, robots or even the 3D printers themselves. This category, which also includes many from the maker movement, is focused primarily on the 3D printing process.

Consuming 3D printed products

Users of 3D printed products are only concerned with the products themselves and only very marginally with the processes necessary to make the. They are users of 3D printed products because these are better, more efficient, more customized products but they are not interested in how these products were actually made.

Typical 3D printed consumer products include eyewear frames and footwear products (insoles, midsoles, sandals), as well as some sporting equipment. These all leverage 3D printing to offer improved customization and more efficient product geometries to ensure lightweight and better ergonomic properties.

Another typical consumer product segment using 3D printing at various levels is jewelry. In this case, 3D printing is used for lost wax casting manufacturing – to create more advanced geometries with traditional materials – but also as a direct manufacturing tool using polymers as well as ceramics and direct precious metal 3D printing technologies

Consuming the 3D printing process

This category of adopters was created when the RepRap movement made many of the technologies and processes necessary to build 3D printers available to everyone through open source sharing of information. Focusing primarily on filament extrusion and – in minor part – on DLP stereolithographic technologies, this movement led to a further, drastic reduction in the price of some 3D printers, taking it from the $5,000 professional and prosumer cost level to below $1,000 (with some systems running as low as $200).

Early RepRap adopters and developers often evolved their expertise thus creating a new business segment for affordable desktop 3D printers. This trend was – and continues to be – driven by the Maker movement, which is largely made up of amateur engineers and artists who have embraced digital manufacturing technologies and make things for the sake of making.

While in many cases this passion for making leads to failures or products that prove to be useless on unattainable, there is no doubt that the maker movement and amateur 3D printing adoption has been instrumental in raising global awareness around the use of these technologies, proving much more effective – to this day – than initiative promoted by governments and large corporations.

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