In the past couple of years, the concept of low-cost 3D printing has captured the hearts and minds of millions of geeks. The allure of an upcoming manufacturing revolution has seeped into the mainstream, too: take The Economist, which ran about two dozen articles about this technology within the last year alone. Something must be in the air!
The charm of 3D printing is easy to understand, especially as it coincides with the renaissance of the DIY movement on the Internet. But all this positive buzz also has an interesting downside: it makes it easy to overlook that the most significant barriers to home manufacturing run very deep, and probably won’t be affected just by the arrival of a new generation of tools.
After all, affordable and hobbyist-friendly manufacturing tools that convert polygons into physical objects have been available for more than a decade. Take desktop CNC mills, for example: home- or office-friendly and costing about as much as a 3D printer, they have revolutionized the lives of many jewelers and dentists; they have shaken up quite a few other niche industries, too. But spare for a small community of hobbyists, these self-contained and tidy mills have not brought on-demand manufacturing into our garages or living rooms.
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