back to article Printing the Future: See a few of UK’s 6.2 million 3D-printed ‘things’

is an occasional column written at the crossroads where the arts, popular culture and technology intersect. Listen to many of today’s bright, young and entrepreneurial things and you could be forgiven for coming away with the notion that every product we buy in the not-too-distant future will have been manufactured by a 3D …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    heh if I had one I'd just use it to print rpg figures and anime character models

    1. Great Bu

      Absolutely - perfect investment for a wargaming club so you can all knock out your armies, self-designed units etc.....

      1. LazyLazyman

        In theory yes, and allot of wargamers are getting very excited about 3d printing. The problem is that they are nowhere near the quality needed. There needs to be allot of improvement before they are good enough for that, if they ever will be. People point to the advances in home printing but forget all the other gadgets that have not taken off.

        What it is good for at the moment is hills, buildings, walls and other bits that don't need too much detail.

  2. AbortRetryFail

    Good article

    I thought the comparison with home DTP software was very astute. This paragraph especially so:

    "Creating good 3D computer models is as hard to do today as designing good magazine layouts was in the 1980s. Sure, the software tools were there, but what was lacking in many of their users was the skill to use them effectively. That’s just as true of 3D printing now.

    Are we about to see a mass of 3D printed objects that are the poorly designed equivalents of all those desktop published pamphlets full of enormous drop-capitals, unsubtle drop-shadows and clip-art? So many 3D printed objects are already becoming clichés of the form."

  3. CADmonkey


    I'm currently wearing orthodontic braces. Instead of metal rails passing through posts glued to my teeth, I have 9 pairs of close fitting clear plastic gumshields (they're almost invisible in use). I change the shields every couple of weeks and my teeth are progressively persuaded into position.

    One impression was taken from my current teeth, which eventually produced 9 sets of 3d printed sets.

    The future is here, and it's given me a slight lisp.

    1. Piro

      Re: application

      Invisalign, right?

      1. CADmonkey

        Re: application

        "RX Aligner"

        ...but thanks for playing.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: application

      "The future ith here, and it'th given me a thlight lithp."

      There...fixed it for ya.

  4. ukgnome Silver badge

    Yes, but is it art? Photo

    I don't know about art, but those dildo's in the cabinet behind made me laugh.

    1. Great Bu

      Re: Yes, but is it art? Photo

      I was also suprised at the failure of the article to address the clear driving force that will make this technology really fly - porn. It gave you the internet and now it will drive 3D printing !

      1. Crisp Silver badge

        Re: Yes, but is it art? Photo

        3D printed porn?

        You mean I can have my own Lexi Belle? :D

    2. Parax

      Re: in the cabinet behind

      That looks like Bloodhounds Steering wheel..

      Some serious one-off bits of kit are being 3d printed, I think its a bit more than just a toy, when you spend 100k on a metal laser sinter printer. Yes the plastic rip-raps et al. are mainly for the hell of it.

      but they are not all toys, not anymore.

    3. Andrew Yeomans

      Re: Yes, but is it art? Photo

      They are actually models of a building and 30cm high!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If one pays attention, one can detect a whiff of hype

    Perfectly useful for making certain plastic parts. Any claims about home printing of complex devices are likely to be breathless fanboi nonsense for one or more decades into the future.

    Some dimwitted fanbois actually claim to have 3D printed a 3D printer. They overlook the $700 kit of parts (stepper motors, circuit cards, wire harness, metal framework, heating systems, etc.) that they bought off ebay. It turns out that they printed off some corner connectors and are too thick to realize that their imagination has run away.

    3D printing is fine. Just need to mock the outrageous claims made by some.

  6. joeW

    And yet it already has shown it's usefulness

    If you don't think so, the SPB would probably like to have a word with you.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: And yet it already has shown it's usefulness

      And the Apostrophe Agency wants to have a word with _you_.

      1. joeW

        Re: And yet it already has shown it's usefulness

        Hmmm, on investigating further it seems that "It's" is a valid contraction for "it has", as well as "it is". So technically I was correct, if only by accident...

  7. an it guy


    Is the liberator gun needing to be made out of plastic?

    I remember the 3D printers of Titanium parts recently that were good enough for Charge to use in bicycles. Surely that would work for the liberator? And fine tuning the laser would mean you could use other materials

    I'm not advocating doing this en masse, but more as an experiment in what would be doable rather than what *should* be done. I know the liberator was made in plastic as an experiment of what could be done, and the metal nail simply to set off the gun, rather than being a viable gun. Making the parts out of a suitable metal shouldn't be too hard.

    Arguably, given the range of properties you can get from a plastic, surely having plastic that's *less* rigid and more shock absorbent would actually make a better gun? It wouldn't break apart from a material standpoint. Whether it could be printed is another matter entirely

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: liberator

      The Liberator experiment didn't show the limits of 3D printing any more than driving a semi-truck into the ocean shows the limits of over-the-road shipping vehicles: It simply wasn't a suitable project. Its only success was getting a dimwitted public to look at 3D printing in a poor light.

  8. Anonymous C0ward

    Yeah, it's not going to cure cancer or bring about world peace. But I still want one.

  9. El Presidente


    "The early laser printers were unable to match the quality of a printing press"

    300dpi was plenty good enough to take a print ready artwork to a printer.

    "high quality output became the province not of the people but of a new breed of output bureau (I ran one) With it the economics of print changed, and we’re now at the stage where you don’t need to print your publication on a laser printer and hand-staple it - you get it printed online. Assuming, of course, that you print it at all."

    A valid point but remember the first prediction of the death of print? Office paper sales have increased year on year ever since that prediction was first made 20+ years ago.

    Wonder if we'll see a jump in technology with 3D printing which will confound the predictions the 'bright new things' are making or will see them proved right.

    /prints out deck chair, grabs popcorn.

  10. Don Jefe


    The investment in a decent setup is comparatively cheap, so that's cool. For less than $30k you can turn out a decent number of 'things' of reasonable precision. You can't touch a small, production capable, pair of CNC machines and tooling for that. For home units though there's little financial value as output isn't scalable.

    I'm just not seeing much value for the home user. I can see the fun, for sure, but not any financial value. The home units I've seen at trade shows are really finicky and you're only seeing the finished results of dozens or more setups and unacceptable output. The prototyping of the prototype is where the big expense is at and they don't talk about that.

    People don't understand how models are translated into production processes and the 'walk up and try' demonstrations I've seen have been absolutely horrendous. The design of the model and the ability to customize the code for processing is more important than the machine you're working with.

    The displayed pieces at trade shows are OK, but they're also not telling you many of them are being burnished and/or media blasted and fine tuned with traditional buffers and files to get the results as displayed.

    I'm not bashing the tech, it is pretty cool, but the idea that quality finished goods are just ejected from the machine simply isn't true. By the time you've built your model, tweaked the code, made some prototyping runs and hand finished the product you've made significant investment. If you're doing it for fun that's one thing, but the home kit isn't suitable for even most basic prototyping for commercial use production. You'd end up with a far superior, and cheaper, prototype if you spent your time learning about modeling and CAM coding and invested your money in a suitably powerful computer and design software and sent the model somewhere else for production.

  11. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    3D printing may well be the future of manufacturing, but for now it’s a hobbyist’s toy

    It's currently used extensively for prototyping rather than end manufacturing. Being able to knock up interlocking (ish) parts at something like 1/4 scale in a day is a tremendous cost saving and really works to push and develop components quickly and cheaply. Good CAD systems are all very well, but having something that's close to the final product in your hands, albeit scaled down, makes the process of iterating improvements so much easier.

    And while a lot of hobbyists do use them, they are also really pushing the boundaries of what can, or should, be done in the medium and this is a good thing. So what that there's a lot of poor quality dross out there... there are some really clever uses as well and that's the important point.

    Would love one myself, but just don't have space in the current house... :)

  12. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Lost wax?

    Could 3D printing be a replacement for the plastic or wax model used to form the mould in the lost wax process? It doesn't have to be durable as it is going to be melted or evaporated before the mould is filled with metal.

    1. Jim Lewis

      Re: Lost wax?

      Indeed it can be and is already by artists exploring its possibilities in this area.

      I think UWE do this.

    2. Don Jefe
      Thumb Up

      Re: Lost wax? Molds ARE good!

      Making non-durable casting molds without the need for great precision is already in use in some niche industries. There's a company in Pennsylvania that makes reproduction hardware for high end antique furniture and they're using one of the original Thing-O-Matics to make molds. The quality is as good as the hand made molds they were using before.

      They've got a nice 3D scanner and they've had some custom coding done to alter the scanned models for materials shrinkage and the whole process works well. The output still requires a lot of hand finishing but they've really accelerated their turn around times and reduced costs. Pattern makers are still the kings of mold based production and their fees have only increased as the art is lost.

  13. Jim Lewis

    Surely for the people with the most positive outlook on the future and rate of rise of 3D printing the 'hobbyists toy' uppermost in their mind is that of computing, which was initially similarly the reserve of hobbyists.

    The computer is now of course ubiquitous, but then it can be turned to such a wide variety of applications.

    3D printing can't and while it will have a myriad of as yet unthought of applications, in it's most advanced form it is essentially a quick route to a prototype either allowing bespoke unique designs for one off or a few items or as a precursor to producing the item through other more efficient means.

  14. emullis

    Radial aero engine

    'There’s also a very fine near full-size model of a radial aero engine, cut away in places to show the pistons and driven by a hand crank. Impressive, but of course while it’s made from 3D printed parts, they still needed to be manually combined into the final working replica.'....

    If you look at the label and film of this being made you can see it's printed in one piece - no assembly required!

  15. FlossyThePig

    The current crop of home 3D printers are the equivalent of 8pin dot matrix 2D printers. I believe some patents are coming to the end of their restrictive lives soon which should allow some more interesting devices coming on the market at more reasonable prices.

  16. Daz555

    Surely I won't need to be a great 3D modeller. There will eventually be loads available on torrent sites I expect.....

  17. annodomini2

    “A printer needs to heat up and takes hours to print one thing. The cost of a million people printing in a million different places will be huge,” warns Phil Reeves of Econolyst, a 3D printing consultancy, on one panel. “You’re better off producing things in factories, where it takes 15 seconds.”

    A printer using ~250w for 8hrs to print what you need vs a factory using 250kw for 15secs + the shipping energy.

    + Middle man costs + Shop energy etc.

    Not a clear cut as you think.

    Economically it's not as good as you are cutting out all those middle men who take their chunk, but energy.

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