Scientific American: Live Chat Weds. 12:30 P.M. EST on What Good Is a Home 3D Printer?

Earlier this week, MAKE published its Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing, which explains what 3D printing is and what you can do with a 3D printer. The heart of this special issue is a side-by-side review of 15 different low-cost 3D printers.

Tomorrow I'm participating in a live chat with the editors of Scientific American about 3D printing. Here are the details:

A live 30-minute online chat will begin at 12:30 P.M. Eastern on Wednesday, November 28 with editor and tech maven Mark Frauenfelder of boing boing and MAKE magazine, who will discuss what you might do with a 3D printer, a machine that can copy the specs from a digital computer file to fabricate a solid object layer by layer.

Frauenfelder will answer questions about whether 3D printers will become a revolutionary new technology like the personal computer or smart phone, or remain a toy for hobbyists. Will a 3D printer ever be able to function as a digital hardware store, printing out new parts as needed? An alternative scenario: It might just spit out cheap plastic tchotchkes. The theme of this chat was inspired by a skeptical blog post by Scientific American senior editor Gary Stix, which drew several contrary reader responses. We invite you to post chat questions in advance below.

Live Chat Weds. 12:30 P.M. EST on What Good Is a Home 3D Printer?


  1. One good thing to bring up on the chat would be yesterday’s post about the finite commodities on planet earth: 

  2. One can make Minecraft Creepers and Portal Companion Cubes with them. Beyond that, the occasional prototype of a product under development. 

    1. Pretty much, most of the fun in 3D printing is learning and building a CNC type robot. the actual printing of trinkets off thingiverse is impressive for friends and visitors, but as a consumer product it’s not as useful as say a laser printer. for prototyping it’s great, but again, if you’re the type of person whose prototyping designs, it’s childs play to buy a kit and build one for 1/5 the price, customised to your needs.

      1. On the other end of that spectrum, if you are a 3D designer/modeler, there’s plenty to do with a 3D printer, but you’re less likely to want to involve yourself in the actual printing aspect as far as tinkering with and troubleshooting problems with the printing process. I fall into this camp and would much rather just send my designs to shapeways or something that gives me better prints with no hassle and in more materials such as metal and ceramic. I don’t see myself being in the market for a home printer to produce my prints for a long time.

  3. There is an apocryphal story that comes to mind.   According to one version, Queen Victoria reportedly asked Michael Faraday what good wa electricity (which seemed to be no more than a novelty at the time).   Faraday is said to have replied, “Madam, what good is a  newborn baby?”

  4. Frauenfelder will answer questions about whether 3D printers will become a revolutionary new technology like the personal computer or smart phone, or remain a toy for hobbyists.

    I’d say that the guy who printed out a lower receiver for an AR-15 has already provided one answer for that question.

  5. Is it me or is there an increasing dichotomy between these increasingly technical BB posts and past items with interesting and useful info or stories? Do I have to be a “maker” or über geek to relate? It’s more ex-clusive (negatively) than I think editors realize. I’m not about to buy a 3D printer and I’m not ever going to “mod” an Arduino micro controller, so should I stop reading BB? It’s worth noting that many loyal readers are not necessarily making a living off Internet memes and Etsy shops.

    1. Mentioning the SA article and a review of 3D printers hardly seems ‘overly technical’ to me.  Granted, I’m never going to buy one, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in an overview of where the tech is going.  (I’m not particularly interested in the music posts either, but that doesn’t mean I want them to stop for everyone else.)

      A quick check of my RSS feed reveals that at time of writing, of the thirty stories showing, two are about maker tech.  (Yes, one data point is not a sample, but it doesn’t seem like a great hardship for me to just skip those two.)

    2. I’ve been reading Boing Boing for years and there’s always been a mix of tech, news, editorials, reviews, etc… I thought it had actually become less tech-centric. I think it’s a good mix though and there are several editors and guest editors that bring a lot of diversity to the table. There are filter/category links at the top that you can use if you wish to only see certain stuff. If you don’t like the blog, then you already answered your own question. Whats the point of your post?

  6. @Mark Frauenfelder : How did you come to choose those specific 3D printers to review in this “Comprehensive” Guide of yours? @Scientific American: How did you come to decide that Mark Frauenfelder is a knowledgeable 3d printing expert to talk to the SA community?   @Gary Stix : You still got it going on.

    1. Was the FORM1 included in the lineup of reviewed printers? (were they even approached?) because it’s clearly the best specced/priced/quality printer on the market.

  7. A fairly big question is whether Big Manufacturing will allow people to “print out new parts as needed”, or whether those “cheap plastic tchotchkes” are all we’ll be able to produce legally.

    [Apologies if this is already covered elsewhere; I have to confess I haven’t really read around the subject.]

  8. Mark, After reading the Make review for Makerbot 2 in this issue, I gotta say I’m disgusted by the favouritism displayed for your in-house friends at MBI. you mention that it performs better than the Replicator 1, yet according to Bre Pettis at this years OHWS, the hardware is identical. you mention ‘cold pause’ as a unique new feature, yet it’s been on reprap’s pronterface software for years. you go so far as to claim the absence of a heatbed as a feature! this is straight out of the Makerbot marketing manual. charging more for less, and calling it an improvement.

    I understand you guys are tight in the NYC maker scene, but you really let your objectivity slip on this one in my opinion.
    I’m sorry to have to point this out, but it’s got to be said.

  9. The interesting questions here is “What good is a HOME 3D printer?” To your average consumer, not much right now IMO. The better question would be “What good is a home 3D printer, when you can use a 3D printing service instead?”. People mention useless tchotchkes and prototypes, but honestly the first thing I ever designed to have 3D printed saved me about $120, which I would have had to pay to replace a broken turntable needle. I documented the process here.

    The 3D printed part cost about $3 plus shipping. That’s about 1/150th the cost of the newest Makerbot printer, plus I didn’t have to do any of the grunt, tinker & troubleshooting work. On top of that I can have things printed in a variety of non-plastic materials such as glass, ceramic & various metals that are not available on home printers and in higher detail. As someone who’s more interested in having my digital designs realized, rather than tinkering with a hobbyist machine, It’s going to be a long time before I consider purchasing a home 3D printer.

  10. In the early 80s I bought an Apple ][+.  I didn’t have a need for it, I wanted it.  I gradually figured out things I could need it for.  I expect it would be the same for me and a 3d printer.

    I’m just sorry I couldn’t be the first to say “what good is a newborn baby?”

    1. Right – but this assumes that 3d printing is like electricity or a great home computer.  Unfortunately we don’t have the story of Queen Victoria and the Sharper Image Catalog or the army of plastic-wasting, bad-photo-making inkjet printers.

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