3D Printing's Usability Problem

3D printing really is everywhere these days. From medicine to major corporations, including HP, no business sector is opting out of the 3D printing discussion. However, relatively few people are engaging with 3D printing's biggest problem: usability. And we're not just talking price. 3D printing generally requires knowledge of design software in order to create models that the printer recognizes. For most consumers, this kind of knowledge is out of reach, which will limit the industry's ability to expand aggressively in 2014.

We wanted to explore some usability challenges and how a few companies are working to bring 3D printing to everyone, regardless of their tech backgrounds.

taken from: techrepublic

3D Printing APIs

An application programming interface, better known as an API, allows different software components to "talk" to each other. Right now, different companies that manufacture 3D printers have different interfaces, often with multiple components. The CEO of Autodesk, a prominent 3D printing company, suggested he "doesn't believe home 3D printing will catch on anytime soon" given the complicated nature of these printers' APIs and the advanced knowledge required.

Despite these challenges, companies like PrintToPeer are rising to the occasion, developing better API systems that can connect all 3D printers and help everyday consumers use the printers with ease. The 2 person team already has software that works on 80% of the market and are hoping to expand and refine the technology so that soon 100% of all printers can be connected. Even if it doesn't have a consumer application yet, it could spark others to streamline printing interfaces.

Success of The Micro 3D Printer

One 3D printer, The Micro, has shown that consumer-friendly machines can garner considerable attention (and raise a lot of money in the process). In just a few days, their Kickstarter has netted over 2 million dollars, supported by thousands of individuals who paid between $199 and $299 for this small desktop-sized 3D printer.

Designed in bold colors with an interactive touchscreen, the M3D software allows users to simply browse a library of different objects, make minor adjustments if necessary, and click print. They even claim you can get a teacup printed within an hour of setting up the machine. There are simply no other printers on the market that offer this ease of use.

While this all sounds good on paper, it's important to remember a few things. First is that these printers will not be available for most until at least the end of the year. We wonder how the company will be able to keep up with increased demand, given the Kickstarter still has 27 days to go. Second is that the limited size might inhibit consumers' ability to produce some objects. We rely on technology to do everything, so limited functionality may turn users off from investing in the printers.

taken from: Kickstarter


As you can see, a few companies are trying to address 3D printing's usability problem. One is using innovative software to streamline the design process while another has created a 3D printer with promising consumer applications. But if 3D printing wants to move out of the medical or industrial design fields, there is a lot of work left to do. Weigh in with your thoughts on using 3D printers below. Would you ever consider purchasing one?

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