3D printers could soon be a common household appliance

New developments in 3D printing are announced almost daily. As the 3D printer becomes more versatile, affordable, and compact it could become a common household appliance.

In the last six months we have seen advances in the types of materials available for printing such as glass and ceramic, and new types of printing such as prosthetic limbs and bioprinting.

Predictions that 3D printing will move outside of laboratories and corporations to become common technology in the home are now being realised. Recently an Australian supermarket chain began selling 3D printers and such services are becoming commonplace at local printing stores.

There are still many barriers to be overcome before the 3D printer becomes commonplace in our homes, such as safety standards and the legal implications considered. Another such hurdle is public familiarity and understanding of the 3D printing world.

Our Domestic 3D Printing Research Project investigates how everyday people understand 3D printing, with the research aiming to map the existing and future connections between institutional and non-institutional use of 3D printing.

To do this, our researchers interviewed experts, beginners, and used big data analysis to gather a picture of how people are actually using 3D printers today.

The results of this research have enriched discussions around the nature of 3D printing in Australia.

Findings include information around how users moved from beginner to expert: where people sourced information about 3D printing, where they found opportunities for engaging with the technology, and common pitfalls experiences during both learning and use.

Our researchers found that while many people were unsure of the purpose of 3D printing, the data from 3D printing files revealed the widely varied and diverse nature of how the technology is being used.

This research project also looked at educational spaces and how they were teaching 3D printing techniques.

They found that despite the increasing interest of formal institutions to include 3D printing techniques in their teaching spaces, the most innovative learning and productive use is coming from outside of formal institutions, through local groups and individual workshops.

Findings from the research relating to the use of 3D printing in Universities were published in an academic article last year - 3D Printing in University Makerspaces.

The overall findings from this project will be published as an Institute Research Paper in April 2016.

The researchers are continuing their research in this emerging area with the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) project “Can I download a car?”: Emerging consumer issues for online access, communication and sharing of 3D printer files, which aims to improve consumer knowledge and protections around consumer issues regarding the sharing of 3D printable files.

Update: The research paper 3D Printing: Civic Practices and Regulatory Challenges was launched on 20 April 2016 at our MNSI seminar event. Click here to read about the launch or visit our Events page to see what we are planning next.

More Information

Kate Murray