Hold your 3D printed horses

By Robert Hickson 09/12/2013

Why would I go to a supermarket to print a cheap plastic imitation of myself, or a loved one? (When) will I be able to just cut out the middle grocer, and most of the supply chain and print my own real bananas at home?

I’ve previously noted  that 3D printing may not be the great disruptor that some claim. Booz & Co, using a more robust framework, take a similar view. They point out that you need to look beyond just the falling costs of 3D printers for home use. Economies of scale mean that large companies will pay less than small firms and hobbyists for the raw materials used by such printers (be those materials plastics, metals, or anything else).  So, except for serious DIY types, many in the future will probably still get their widgets from the big boys.

Printing food too, despite hype from companies like Natural Machines, will also face similar cost challenges.

The report from Booz & Co suggests that the impact trajectory of 3D printing will be more like gas ovens than microchips. People don’t buy as many ovens (or printers) as computers.

They do note, though, that 3D printing will (and already is in some niche areas) shake up manufacturing considerably.

As Callaghan Innovation has already spotted, there will be good market opportunities for firms to produce powder formulations of metals, such as titanium, that can be used for 3D printing.

There are also opportunities to develop more environmentally friendly replacements for the plastics used in 3D printing

It will also pay not to get too excited that you, or your local hospital, doctor’s surgery, or neighbourhood Warehouse Anatomy shop will be able to print new body parts on demand . Top of the line expertise and hygiene will be required there.

Booz & Co’s paper is good to bear in mind when reading about other “revolutionary” technologies.