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Top 5 Present and Future Home 3D Printing Applications

Toronto, February 15, 2013.

Evan Hardie, Senior Analyst – IDC Canada

The applications for home 3D printing have grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years, as the hardware becomes more main stream.  As mentioned in my previous blog post (Home 3D Printing – Are Flying Cars Around The Corner?), the potential  Achilles Heel will be the lack of suitable real world applications for 3D print in the home. 

There has been a great deal of attention  paid, as of late, to cool new large-scale applications of 3D printing for industries like, aerospace, automotive, military and manufacturing.  These applications are great uses of 3D printing; however, they have little to do with the recent media attention given to 3D home printers.
If home 3D printers are to become a part of our everyday life, as computers and television have, there will need to be exciting, functional or useful applications for them.  For instance, in the future, a young lady could conceivably have a phone that has her name 3D printed on its case, she could throw on a pair of earrings that were 3D printed, and eat a 3D printed taco before she even steps foot outdoors.  It may sound far-fetched, but there is already ground work being done to make this a reality.

The following are my top 5 present and future applications for 3D printing in the home.
​1. Mobile Device Accessories
Early this month, Nokia released their 3D printing development kit that will help with the creation of cases for their new Lumia 820 (Windows 8 based smart phone) handset.  This kit contains the files needed to print cases at home, along with tutorials and tips.  Companies that offer 3D printing services, like i.Materialise (http://i.materialise.com/) and Freshfiber, a 3D Systems company (http://www.freshfiber.com/home/) , have been quick to design templates for users to create their own cell phone covers (for print in their labs) for a number of different phones.  There has also been the introduction of 3D printed tablet cases, charging docs, and laptop/tablet stands. 
As the mobile phone market continues to mature in Canada, we can expect to see more need for customization.   Teens and young adults live on their phones these days, and see their phones as extensions of who they are.  A 3D printed case that is uniquely their-own will set them apart from their friends and be a modern fashion accessory.
2. Art and Home Décor
Another application for 3D printing at home very well may  be the creation of three-dimensional art and elaborate home décor pieces.  When 3D home printers become more refined, children’s art may find another home standing on a shelf than simply taped to the refrigerator door.  As 3D scanning techniques improve, people conceivably could scan famous works of art (painting and sculptures) and with the click of a button print them in 3D for their home. 
Crayon Creatures (http://crayoncreatures.com) takes children’s drawings that are in 2D and creates 3D renderings for their customers ($120 US).  The hard work of modeling the 2D drawings into three dimensions is done by this company today, however, this may be something that’s accomplished with ease at home, in the future.
Designer David Graas (http://www.davidgraas.com) has explored the capabilities of 3D printing in his recent lamp design. He displayed this at the Dutch Design Week 2012 in Eindhoven.  There he exhibited a hanging lamp that had a 3D printed city-scape that acted as the bulb shade.  Artists and designers will likely take to designing lamps, light fixtures and other home décor items on their own personal 3D printers.
3. Fashion
The at-home printing of jewelry items may very well become a common use of 3D printing technology in the near future.  Other fashion items like eye glass frames, belt buckles, and even hats could be printed at home.  Italian designers Orlando Fernandez Flores and his wife Lucia De Conti have already begun to offer a wide range of 3D printed accessories at their store (http://www.maison203.com).
If 3D printers become ubiquitous, there may be monetized web-based or application- based online stores for the printing of one-off fashion accessories.  There could conceivably be online stores like Apple’s App Store with the primary focus being the sale of blue prints for fashion pieces to be printed at home.  
Male do-it-yourselfers have already taken to creating watch body components at home for watches like the TIMESQUARE DIY Watch (http://adafruit.com/products/1106).
4. Children’s Action Figures and Other Toys
Children’s toys could be printed from home in the near future.  There will likely be software applications either for PC or tablet that make children’s dreams of creating their own custom action figure a reality.
Well known toy designer Wayne Losey (kidmechano) has already dabbled in these types of creations, offering customers the ability to build their own action figure out of easy to assemble modular pieces he prints in his shop (http://modibot.tumblr.com/).  Customers can upgrade these action figures whenever they see fit. 
Other types of game figures are already being created with 3D printers from Turtle Works (http://www.shapeways.com/shops/turtleworks) on Shapeways.  Here customers can order various figurines printed by 3D printers, to be painted by hand later. 
I stumbled across Mixeeme.com (https://www.mixeeme.com), a Shapeways partner, where I mocked up a miniature bobble-head- looking version of myself for $25 dollars.  There is little doubt in my mind that these types of applications will soon come to home 3D printers, pushing these web- based sites to offer new and more elaborate products.
5. Food
As of late, there has been some talk of using 3D printers to produce finished food products.   The day you can walk into your kitchen, choose a burger from an electronic menu and have it materialize in front of you still remains down the road, however many companies have made great strides in this area.  
Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, is the team leader of a project that is working on printing live cell tissue to create three dimensional eatable foods from stem cells of various animals.  This makes the concept of a printed steak or hamburger, at home, not so far-fetched.    For now, this process uses a 3D print head to print “bioink” that contains cells.  These cells will need to be cultivated in order to create anything eatable.  Read more here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20972018
Another notable example of 3D printing of edible output is the work of one NYU graduate, from the Interactive Telecommunications Program,  on what he calls the BurritoBot.  This project (presently seeking funding) will allow users to mix their ideal combination of guacamole, salsa and crema on to a tortilla to create the perfect burrito at home.  Cornell University in New York has been exploring the capabilities of a 3D printer they created for the creation of foods.  Thus far, they have created chocolate, cheese, scallops, hummus, celery and turkey using melted versions of typical ingredients. This research may lay the ground work for a click-print-eat future at home.

Image via i.materialise.com

Image via Crayon Creatures 

Image via Maison 203

Image via Dynamo Development Labs


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