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Wanted: User Friendly 3D Printing Software

on Aug 18 2014 , 14:35:00

There is a lot of excitement about 3D printing these days, and justifiably so. 3D printing is an amazing technology that will revolutionize how things are made, sold and distributed.

But most of the focus seems to be on the machines themselves, not the software required to easily design content for the printers to print. As a result, there is a growing content gap in the 3D printing industry where many people are buying desktop 3D printers only to be faced with the question of what to print.

Even though printable models can be found in a number of content repositories online, the true magic of 3D printing really lies in creating custom objects that are unique to your needs. A 3D printer is in many ways the ultimate creativity tool. Being able to design or customize your own object and then watch it materialize layer-by-layer in front of you is simply a magical experience.

To really bring desktop 3D printers to life we need to re-imagine how we design things. How we enable anyone to make amazing, custom, functional objects for 3D printing without knowing how to operate complex CAD software. And we need to design these tools for 3D printing from the start. They should be intuitive and fun to use so that more people start making things and unleashing their creativity with 3D printers, which in turn will inspire many more people to do the same.

This is especially important when it comes to our kids. There is growing momentum behind STEAM education in schools and more and more schools are buying 3D printers as part of such programs. We need to ensure kids have access to simple yet powerful 3D design tools so they can let their imagination go wild. Our kids are the designers of the future, and once they realize that they can design and 3D print their own custom objects instead of buying mass produced items from a store there’s no telling what they’ll come up with.

The 3D printers of the future will be nothing like the 3D printers we know today. In many ways 3D printing is still in its infancy even though the technology has been around for some time. There is a lot of experimentation going on in the industry and 3D printer manufacturers are working hard to develop machines that are easier to use, more affordable and more powerful.

But to realize the full potential of 3D printing we need to push forward on all fronts, especially the design tools and applications that we use to create content for 3D printers. We need to get ready for the day when we’re no longer limited by printing with a single filament or prints that take hours to complete. When anybody will be able to use a 3D printer without having to worry about leveling build plates and cleaning nozzles, or that their prints will turn into spaghetti on the build plate.

It’s interesting to compare the evolution of 3D printers with the evolution of the smartphone. Who would have thought twenty years ago that today we would be carrying supercomputers in our pockets? For a long time mobile phones were just phones, then the first smartphones arrived but they didn’t work very well. They were underpowered, difficult to use, lacked compelling apps and the network infrastructure wasn’t good enough. Then the iPhone arrived with its multitude of apps and everything changed in an instant. People’s perception of what a phone is changed.

At some point in the not too distant future, a desktop 3D printer will become available that is fast, can print using multiple materials in full color in a single print job, is easy to use and costs less than $500. When the iPhone of 3D printing comes out, people will start coming up with all kinds of new applications and uses for 3D printing that we can’t even dream of today.

And just like the music industry has undergone tremendous change due to the Internet and digital media, many industries will eventually be turned upside down when 3D printing hits the mainstream.

But the printers themselves are only a part of the equation. Amazing content and easy to use, fun design apps that turn anyone into a maker are just as important for the 3D printing revolution to really take off.

Hilmar Gunnarsson is the founder and CEO of Modio, a start-up focusing on enabling anyone to design amazing content for 3D printing. Hilmar is also an angel investor with extensive experience in mobile software and communications and sits on the board of several Icelandic technology startups.

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