WANTED: The killer application for consumer 3D-printing

A short read on uncomplex solutions

Robbie Bouschery
Mar 22, 2014 · 3 min read

A few days ago I listened to a presentation by Dr. Frank Piller, a professor of technology and innovation management at Germany's largest technical institute RWTH Aachen. He talked about some of the fun applications of consumer 3D-printers, like the possibility to print miniature versions of yourself or the possibility to download open source furniture and have it printed on websites like Shapeways so that you don't even need to own and operate a 3D-printer.
However, the one thing he stressed about this topic is that while the technology has become fairly easy to use, affordable and also creates qualitatively high products, there is still not a killer application for 3D-printers that makes the average consumer buy one.

Reflecting on this I noticed that I myself was really interested in 3D-printers but couldn't think of any application that would jusitfy my spending $1000+ on buying one.
But is it really a lack of usefulnuss that is keeping us from buying 3D-printers? Or have we just not found a really useful application for the average consumer, not to ask - is there even one?

Looking back only two years I had my first smartphone for nearly half a year but many of my friends were still using regular feature phones and weren’t willing to switch to smartphones. The reason all of them presented was not that they wouldn’t be able to afford one but that they didn’t need one. They didn’t want to be “always on”, said it would be enough to check Facebook on the PC and look up the train schedule on paper and not in an app. But then all of a sudden this changed and now almost anyone I know owns a smartphone and actually uses it to check Facebook and train schedules. What happened? A killer application came to the market, spread quickly and put pressure on everyone to buy a smartphone.
This killer application happens to just have been acquired by Facebook for $19Bn — Whatsapp.
Everyone in Germany was switching from SMS to Whatsapp and anyone without a smartphone and thus without the possibility of using Whatsapp suddenly wasn’t part of the game anymore.

Really? The killer application that pushed smartphones to be in nearly anyone’s pocket is an app with almost the same functionality as any Instant Messenger including Facebook Messenger or even “historic” ICQ?
I think so. Sometimes it’s the simple things that drive success and the killer applications might not be the most technically advanced, most fancy and most complicated.

What does this mean for consumer 3D-printing? The killer application for it might not be as complex as most are expecting it to be.
Now I myself certainly don’t have the answer to the question what it might be but with this article I’d like to challenge you to think outside the box but don’t think too difficult.
Take the example of Whatsapp and try to think of applications that are simple, uncomplex and scalable and will make anyone want to buy a 3D-printer in the future.

I am looking forward to your ideas!

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    Robbie Bouschery

    Written by

    Entrepreneur building a new stealth startup by day. Aspiring writer and curious thinker by night.