The arrival of budget priced 3D printers promises to give the technology a push into the home market, with models as cheap as £150 being affordable for most households.
But there are no signs of a clamour for the machines. If anything’s holding the market back at the moment it’s unfamiliarity and a sense among most people that they have no use for 3D printing. Most have heard of it, but to them it’s something for techies and people who like playing with gadgets, and they haven’t seriously thought about what they would do with a machine. And I’d bet that some of the creative types who have considered it have quickly retreated at the thought of having to get to grips with a complicated software package.
In the short term it could be a source of frustration for the manufacturers of 3D printers, but it points to an opportunity a little further ahead for companies that are ready to help consumers take their first steps into producing their own objects. Selling ready to print designs for products, with guidance on the raw materials to use, could provide a first step for nervous early adopters. But the real potential is in giving them the chance to stamp their own personalities on the process with customisable template designs.
It’s a half-way step that would hold consumers’ hands through getting to know the software while allowing space for them to show their creativity. It’s similar to enabling people to design their own websites using templates, and would add a ‘home made’ dimension to some sizeable consumer markets, such as jewellery, clothing accessories, tableware, models and toys.
Those early steps would familiarise people with the technology and help them get used to the idea of creating their own objects. Then it’s just a little further to those first efforts in fully mastering the software to create from scratch. That’s when the full potential for 3D printing in the home really takes off, as it becomes a tool for consumer creativity.
This is where some enterprising companies can plant an early stake in the market over the next couple of years. Even if the early adopters move on to doing their own thing others will follow, and the prospect of millions of children getting to grips with 3D printers provides the promise of a big market that will thrive in the long term.