3D printers in 2015 have started to target the home market. Their price went down below the 1,000$ thresholds. The problem is that what you can print today with those family 3D printer is some fancy objects with very little practical use.
The vision is that with a 3D printer in your home, by your microwave perhaps, you could print anything, from the medicine prescribed by the doctor to the replacement of the washer in that leaking tap. And dreaming forward, why not use it to print your dinner, and that is why placing it side by side with the microwave makes sense!
But this is a vision. In 2015 family 3D printers are more for fun (a tad expensive though) than for real practical use. Only a few hundred thousands shipped in 2015, although Gartner expects there will be over 5 million shipping in 2019.
The potential for 3D printers to change our life and to disrupt value chain exist, but in my view this will not happen before the middle of the next decade, and then some. This is also why I listed family 3D printers last in my recap of the year.
We have acquired at the EIT Digital Trento Node a 3D printer but that is not for family use, it is to show what some of our start ups can do.
The coming years will see a continuous improvement of 3D printers, in performances and cost. It will be, though, a slow evolution, at least in my opinion. Over ten or more years time disruption may occur.
We already have apps that can perform a 3D scanning using our smart phone, processing in the cloud can transform this scanning into a set of instructions for a 3D printer to replicate the scanned object in shape. Replicating it in functionality is quite a different story. Even replicating a key is tricky. Yes, you can replicate its shape in plastic but that plastic key is unlikely to be functional in opening a door where a much stronger material may be needed.
Over the years, as more and more 3D printers will find a place in our home, we can rest assured that more and more software, dedicated apps, will become available and subtly that will start to dent the present distribution chain and will also enable a different kind of manufacturing.
It is not just about increased functionality and performance. It is about economic effectiveness. Here lis the crux of the problem. Present manufacturing and distribution chains are so cost effective that replacing them with a distributed (home) manufacturing is going to be very very challenging. I won't expect this to happen before the fourth decade in this century. What I can expect is that family 3D printing can find some niche of reasonable use that will grow over time. Particularly in manufacturing that once in a lifetime product where there is no space in the industrial production.
Once this will happen, plenty of opportunities will become available for start up with a strong skill in design. Software will be needed, but it will not be the selling point, no more than a screwdriver is a selling point when you ask a person to fix your car...