THE BLOG
12/16/2013 10:39 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2014

3D Printing Can Turn You Into a Designer

Recently, I learned that during a Black Friday sale, a popular consumer website offered a desktop 3D printer for sale. On the surface, it seemed rather surreal that a store, like an Amazon.com or BestBuy.com, would even be selling 3D printers. To my amazement, I found that they had sold hundreds of units in just a few hours! The result told me one thing -- 3D printers are opening the door for everyday people to become designers.

Designers are a novel breed. We think, eat and sleep design. We try to imagine the next version of something that exists, and contemplate new and innovative things that can revolutionize a task, or even an industry. What was a Ford station wagon in 1960, becomes an Audi Q7 today, thanks to innovation and design. Think "better, faster, cheaper, and easier to use." Because design involves the desire to improve things, the idea of design becomes the motivation to turn ideas and concepts into real items. In a way, everyone is inherently a bit of designer.

But for many people, design can seem cryptic and complicated. Knowledge of mechanism arrangement, tolerance stack up, motion kinematics, material properties, and fabrication methods are just not part of everyone's typical abilities. But the 3D printer addresses one of the big elements -- fabrication -- by enabling a person to quite literally click a mouse button and build a complex object with little more than an idea and some computer-aided design (CAD) skills.

What 3D printing has steadily turned into is an appliance, just like a stove or a toaster oven. Although there is a technology aspect in the use of a 3D printer (CAD software being the main one), for many people it's no more complicated than learning how to use a computer or a smartphone for the first time. Companies like Google and Apple have proven that given enough technology, even grandparents and kids can learn to use a technology device.

Today one only has to look online and see everything from custom jewelry to designer high-heeled shoes to furniture being made with 3D printers. People are fabricating toys, hand tools, and even orthopedic prosthetics, using these amazing machines. The printers themselves, and the technology that runs them, have evolved to a level where they have become both affordable and small enough to use in a household. What used to be upwards of $600,000 and the size of a large refrigerator can now be had for about $1,200 and will fit on your kitchen table.

If you recall what the first Motorola "mobile cellular phone" looked like, it was expensive, and about as large as a medium-sized purse, with a huge battery and a goofy looking coiled "CB- radio" cord that connected the handset to the chassis. Compare that with today's smartphone and you'll understand the evolution that 3D printers have gone through.

3D printing is becoming mainstream, thanks to the technology that makes them more affordable, smaller, and easier to use. What was once something from science fiction is now a reality for more and more people.

Look into what 3D printing can do for you... because the technology door is wide open to everyone...