In the 1960s, The Jetsons presented cartoon watchers with an idea of what the future of civilization could look like—talking dogs, robot maids, flying saucers, meals at the push of a button. The show was set in 2062, less than 50 years from now. Today, while a Roomba is a far cry from Rosie (the Jetsons’ sentient robot maid) and our dogs still can’t respond to our questions, meals at the push of a button might not be far off. Not unlike Jane Jetson flicking a switch and waiting for a meatloaf to materialize, we have the ability to create a model on a computer, push a button, and hold that product within hours – or even minutes – thanks to 3D printing.
3D printing is unique in that it doesn’t shave away at a large block of material, like traditional manufacturing methods. Instead, it builds from the ground up by printing very thin layers of ink on top of each other in programmed patterns. This ink can be made of a variety of materials—plastics, metals, chocolate, even living human cells. Creating through addition instead of subtraction has notable benefits—less waste, smaller manufacturing costs, shorter production time and more precise levels of customization to name a few. Forward-facing companies such as Ford Motors and Mattel are taking advantage of these benefits—everything from Barbie dolls to car engines have been produced from this evolving technology.
On the industrial level, there is no denying the dramatic effects that the technology has had and will continue to have. McKinsey & Co. predicts that in just over ten years, 3D printing could have an impact of nearly 550 billion dollars a year. Despite that well-researched estimate, the average American is currently unfamiliar with the technology. According to a recent Kelton survey, nearly three in ten (27%) Americans have never even heard of 3D printing, and another third (36%) have heard of it but know nothing else about the technology.
As we look towards the future, will 3D printers break out of higher-level industries and into the common household? General Electric, which has been a leader in the realm of 3D printing in aviation, thinks so. They have designed what they call “Home 2025” and predict that in just over a decade, a modern home will have 3D printers under the counter “where homeowners can conveniently print their own housewares, home décor and dog toys.” This concept may not be such a stretch. There are currently at-home printers for everyday consumers capable of producing those types of knick knacks which sell for about $2000. At that price, it’s likely that only the highly interested tech-enthusiasts will be running to buy one. In fact, 48 percent of Americans predict that 3D printers will not be a common household item in the future, with nearly two in three (63%) saying that it’s because they’re too expensive.
Price is one determining factor in the potential widespread use of 3D printing, but capabilities are another. It is probable that we don’t even know the potential of 3D printing in the future. Consider this: ten years ago, the majority of Americans weren’t downloading movies, music, books, television shows, podcasts, etc. We have since become a culture of unflinchingly instant gratification. If we want to hear a song, we can access it within seconds. If we want to watch a specific movie, we go to Netflix. Not on Netflix? Check Hulu. Not on Hulu? Rent it on iTunes. Now imagine having the ability to instantly download things— clothes, jewelry, children’s toys, or food. 3D printing is on its way to enabling us to do just that, and once we have that capability the system will undoubtedly be perfected as quickly as possible. With that in mind, $2000 may seem like a reasonable price to pay.
It was less than 30 years ago that the CEO of a digital equipment company said that there would be “no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” 3D printing is currently constrained to an industrial level, and while nearly three in ten (28%) Americans say that there is no reason for any individual to have a 3D printer in his home, 30 years from now that may not be the case. By 2062 we may very well be printing out meatloaves for our families to eat, although that will take some getting used to—three in four (75%) Americans say they’re not quite ready to eat 3D printed food.
By Carly Christian, Quantitative Intern