There’s yet another discussion on one of the forums about the “breakthrough” of 3D printing technology and the impact it’s expected to have on scale modeling. I know how exciting it is to imagine the possibilities, but I remain as skeptical today as I was two years ago when I first wrote about the hype around 3D printers.
One modeler wrote, "When the cost of this reaches a certain point, we could theoretically all own our own printer, and simply buy the 3D file from a 'model' company (or create our own if we're so inclined).”
Even if 3D printers become relatively inexpensive allowing anyone to print their own models, only a few modelers will be able to actually design their own models. The design process is the most complex piece of the 3D revolution. I’ve never used CAD software, but I have to believe that creating a complex shape such as a fuselage or a small tow hook requires a great deal of knowledge and experience. Hell, the professionals at Trumpeter and Hobby Boss often fall short, so it’s unlikely that any of us novices — even the rivet counters — are going to get it right.
I’m not alone in this belief. An article in an industry publication Inside 3DP suggests that you’d need 2000 hours of CAD experience to design complex shapes. I casually reviewed a number of online job postings for 3D designers, and the job requirements are intimidating:
- Experience of working in 3D CAD; particularly CATIA and preferably Magics or other AM software.
- Experience with 3D CAD (Creo/ProE, Solidworks) and building prototypes.
- Experience with 2D drawings, design of experiments, and programming.
- Proficiency in Solidworks, Adobe CS, Keyshot, Sketchbook Pro, and PowerPoint / Keynote.
- Advanced surfacing with Alias, Rhino, or Solidworks.
- Experience MakerBot is a significant plus.
- Bachelors in Polymer Science, or Polymer Physics, Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science, or Materials Engineering, or a related discipline.
- Familiarity with FEA modeling (techniques and boundary conditions) in materials and with polymers, continuous fibers, and reinforced (soft) composites.
If you’re still not convinced, the Inside 3DP article goes on to list 32 additional reasons to resist the 3D printing hype.
Looking ahead a few years, I don’t think we’ll see anyone design a full kit so that someone else can then print and sell kits without restriction. Why would someone invest hundreds or thousands of hours designing an accurate MiG-25, for example, when anyone can take that CAD file and print hundreds of kits? And why would we expect that particular MiG-25 design to be any more accurate than the Kitty Hawk kit?
We’re more likely to see a number of cottage industry businesses that hire professionals to design replacement parts and maybe full kits and then “sell" the CAD file for one-time use for the hobbyist to print at home. Or following Shapeway’s business model where you design an item and they print it, sharing the profit with you.
Even if we won’t be printing anything at home there’s still reason to be excited about 3D printing technology. A number of entrepreneurial designers have created some really interesting products that are available via Shapeways and the guys at Click2detail have produced some amazing items that are worth a look.