Some technologies live up to expectations others fail. I cancelled my cable years ago and was an early proponent and user of Netflix, and I remember thinking that I should buy stock, now I wish I’d acted on that impulse. I also remember being excited about the promise of hydrogen fuel cells cars. I had a friend who worked for Ballard Power Systems a company that went public in 1993 and promised to revolutionize the auto industry with hydrogen fuel cells. For various reasons, some political, this technology has stalled. Ballard has abandoned their vision of revolutionizing the automotive industry and now focuses on batteries for forklifts and other industrial applications. In their words:
...the hydrogen car was never alive. The problem was never, "Could you build a fuel cell that would consume hydrogen, produce electricity, and fit in a car?"
The problem was always, "Can you make hydrogen fuel at a price point that makes
any sense to anybody?" And the answer to that to date has been "No. (VanderKlippe, 2007)
After taking part in Roger Vernon’s 3D printing demo it occurred to me that there is a major divide between printing simple polymer trinkets and creating viable complex products at a reasonable cost. Like the hydrogen fuel cell which offers the potential of an almost zero emission fuel source for transportation, 3D printing also promises great things such as food alternatives and replaceable organs with custom matched DNA. However in addition to cost, 3D printing faces other challenges, including patent infringement, reliability, choice of materials, and safety. (General Fabb, 2014) Also with the emergence of any technology that threatens to revolutionize manufacturing and potentially eliminate the need for transportation and the distributor, one has to wonder if there will be political barriers to the emergence of this movement.
Limitations aside, 3D printing is an exciting field and is currently proving practical to some design firms who are already utilising this technology to troubleshoot and create prototypes before moving to the manufacturing stage, saving both time and money. Furthermore while the 3D printers that use polymer spools and are available to the public may be somewhat limited in function and expensive, they make a wonderful tool for student learning. I can see no better place to promote their use in an attempt to spark creativity and to inspire the next generation to drive and push this exciting movement into fulfilling its potential and promise.
GeneralFabb, “The 10 barriers to 3D printing in your home”, Fabbaloo, http://fabbaloo.com/blog/2012/2/15/the-10-barriers-to-3d-printing-in-your-home.html
Nathan VanderKlippe, Hydrogen highway hits dead end Nathan VanderKlippe, Financial Post, 2007-11-05, http://www.financialpost.com/story.html?id=356bed57-656b-4ffd-b3b0-f7f5a96ace29&k=80493