3 D Printer

What I’m Learning about 3D Printing

For Christmas this year I bought my daughters (4 and 7 years old) a 3D Printer.

Okay, maybe it was for me, but I saw it as a learning opportunity for them and something that I could create little toys for them on. I have wanted to purchase one for several years, but the price point has been too high up until now. About 2 years ago when I first became interested the cheapest version was more than $1,000 and about a year ago when I considered buying one I was looking at a minimum of $500. This time when I went looking on Amazon I could fine more than 10 3D printers that were under $250 and I went with the Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer.

Since purchasing the printer, I’m not sure that my girls have learned much, but I sure have. I’ve attempted printing about a dozen different items and successfully only printed 3: a cat, a dog and a shark ring. At this point, only one of my nieces is impressed.

Honestly, I bought a simple 3D printer and it was still hard to setup, hard to figure out and even when understanding the instructions, the attempted items I’ve tried to print have not turned out successful. Here are my learnings thus far:

  1.  It’s Complicated – I expected this to be easy for me as I normally pick up on things like this pretty easily. Everything is precise when it comes to the code, the settings, the filament, etc. and 1 thing out of place will ruin everything.
  2.  It’s Expensive – even though the printers themselves are dropping in price rapidly, it’s still not cheap when at best you can print little plastic items that are next to useless. In order to print things, you will have to spend $1,000 or more on a good printer. The additional cost of the filament (plastic) itself isn’t that cheap either.
  3.  It’s Tedious – because you must download the code, convert the code, adapt the code, establish the settings, etc. every item you print, it can feel very tedious to create anything. That’s just in the setup, most items take about 3-4 hours to print as well after you hit print.

You might think based on my learnings that I’ve changed my opinion on 3D printers being a big part of the future. I’m actually even more excited about them than before as I now understand them better and what they can do or should be able to do. While I have predicted them to be 2-3 years away from commonplace in homes and workplaces, I would now say that I think they are more like 4-6 years away.

Moving forward I think what needs to happen for 3D printing is for a common file format to be established for all printers (like a PDF file for posters) and for all printers to all have very standardized setting options. I also think the printers themselves will come a long way in the next few years with higher quality production for a lower cost and faster production time.

All that to say, if you’re interested in 3D printing, now is a great time to start learning and playing. If you are just interested in what it can create, but not interested in learning how it is created, I would just wait. 3D printers are not yet cost effective and the most expensive asset that we have is our time and it will currently cost you a significant amount of time to learn how to even print a useless little plastic cat.

If you are a 3D Printer owner I would love to hear what you are learning!

Does Your Church need a 3D Printer?

Let me be very clear as I start this post: Your church DOES NOT NEED a 3D printer. 

However, I do believe that your church can begin using a 3D Printer today and I do believe that almost every church in America will have a 3D Printer in the next 5 years. 

Many of you might be asking: what the heck is a 3D printer and why would I need it? For the most part a 3D printer is a device where you can create a 3-Dimensional object on your computer and print it out in plastic. For instance, you can design and create a cup and simply print it out or instead of buying a toy for your kids you simply download the template and print it out. It’s hard to imagine, but this is already possible and already happening. 

I was first introduced to a 3D printer at a hackathon a couple years ago where one of the developers proposed solving clean water issues by sending a 3D printer to a region and developing a template for water filters that can be printed out in masses locally. In this scenario greater efficiencies can be created in development and shipping. Who could have even dreamed this possible just a couple years ago, but today this is very much a realistic possibility. 

So, what can your church do with a 3D printer? It’s hard to imagine right now, but here are a few ideas that come to mind:

  • Kids Ministry supplies – instead of buying craft supplies, just print them
  • Sermon Illustrations- ever sent an intern on a crazy hunt for a random sermon illustration item? No need to any more, as you can likely just print the visual.
  • Facility Needs – need a new door handle or random plumbing piece?  No need to run to the store as you can simply print the item you need. 

I know it sounds silly right now, but this technology is real and developing fast. My guess is that in the next 5 years you will see one of these devices in almost every church that currently has a paper printer in their building as well as every home. 

I get excited for my kids to be able to create just about anything they could dream up. All I got to do when I was a kid was take things apart or create with the limits of my lego set. New technologies like this remove limits that have always existed and open up opportunities that we’ve never even dreamed about.

What opportunities do you see around 3D printers and the church?