In today’s episode, Tom and Tracy Hazzard answer one of the most common questions they get asked. “Why should I buy a 3D printer? Should I buy a 3D printer? Is it for me?” They share their thoughts on what they think are the best reasons, and also some reasons not to buy one. They also share some of their personal experience with their daughter to show how buying a 3D printer may really be for you.
Reasons to Buy a 3D Printer
We are going to talk about reasons to buy a 3D printer. This is what people ask us all the time. It’s like one of the most common questions, “Why should I buy a 3D printer?” Definitely a couple of times over the course of all the episodes we’ve done, this question has come up before. But there’s new things to consider and a little bit of a new take on it than we’ve taken before.
We should start back with my first question is, why not? Why not buy a 3D printer if you’re thinking about it? Because there’s plenty that are low cost enough out there that you could just get started. Because I am not sure, after having been very questionable about why we should buy one. I was highly questionable about that many years ago. Now, I’ve changed my tune. But having experienced it, the reality is I don’t think you can really understand all the benefits and all the uses and all the possibilities of what you can do in your business and your personal life or with whatever reason that you personally have to be interested in thinking about buying a 3D printer, you can’t do that unless you start using it. I just feel like you have to start.
With that being said, my only caveat to that is the number one reason not to buy is that you don’t have any CAD skills. I would get some CAD skills and then consider buying it. Because I think that you’re going to be severely limited in what you can do with it if you don’t have CAD skills and/or you might be just buying it too soon. It’s not that you shouldn’t buy one. Because we’ve talked to several people that bought the 3D printer, even spending more than $3000 on a 3D printer and supplies and all these, then only to have it sit for nine months in their home while they learn to use this CAD program or that CAD program to be able to make something. Certainly, you can download files. If that’s really your objective to download files and print them, then great. You don’t need a whole lot of CAD skills to do that. But like I said, we’ve seen people that were trying to do their own parts and make something somewhat custom and they were just limited, they couldn’t do it until they have those CAD skills.
Tom, why do you think people should buy a 3D printer?
There are so many reasons that you could buy a 3D printer. To me, it’s just you really have the ability to print just about anything. Not any material, granted. But any geometry really right in your own home or your garage or your office or whatever it may be. You don’t have limits that you used to have. To me, ever since I was a kid, I always taking apart my toys, figuring out first of all how they worked, but then taking them apart and putting them together into different kinds of things, creating something new. Then eventually, I went to art school, design school and became a designer to intentionally make things that haven’t existed before.
I was taught when I was school all the conventional ways to make things. I had to learn how to use all these different machines, whether it was wood machines, metal machines, there are plastic fabricating machines. I had to learn all the ins and outs and learn how to be almost a technician, on a lathe, on a milling machine, using saws and routers, all sorts of things. That education is great education if you’re going to be someone that actually designs things to be manufactured in traditional method. You need to know all that stuff, but you certainly didn’t need to know all that stuff in order to make a physical object of something you imagined in your head or something you wanted to build somewhat custom.
If you’re going to have somebody else do it, if you don’t have those machines, all the different places you’d have to go, all the different machines that you’d have to use, all the different money you would have to pay to have somebody make something for you. We customers all the time in our consulting business who have this idea, but they don’t know how to get it made. It’s very complicated. Now, it’s very easy. The making part isn’t the hard part, the designing part is the hard part and that’s where they fall apart for the most part.
Let’s assume you know though what you want to make, whether it’s designed or engineered or whatever, you know you want to make this thing. I’ll give you an example. We had a relative, he has these old windows in his home that had this plastic part, which is a really important part for how the window functioned. But over the years, these plastics were old, the plastics have aged and the parts have all broken. The company no longer exist, you can’t get those parts anymore.
He actually was talking to me, “I need this part for the window. It’s a pretty simple part. Do you think it could be 3D printed?” Then he showed it to me. I was like, “Of course, it could be 3D printed.” “How can I get that done?” He was in the DC area. I was like, “You’re going to have to find somebody who knows CAD, who can make you a little model, but it’s a simple model.” I’d say they’d probably take an hour of their time at most to make this model. “Then you could have a file that you can upload to one of these sites and print a couple and get them. Make sure they work. Then you can buy 50 of them if you need them for your house.” He’s like, “Wow, great solution.” That’s a good example.
It doesn’t have to be that you’re trying to create something new. It could be trying to recreate something old. 3D printing just gives you this such great opportunity to not be limited because something is out of distribution or no longer being manufactured.
I guess I always go back to the question, what? That’s why we named the podcast what we did, WTFFF, what the FFF. What do you want to print? You don’t want to buy a 3D printer to go do one replacement part because you have one need. If you feel like that’s a serial thing for you, like it’s going to happen again and again and again, then go ahead and do it. Then it makes sense. I think somebody very handy around their house who always is making things and repairing things, I think that it could serve a great need.
But it can’t serve a need if you can’t scan those things, because now we discovered Matter and Form Scanner. That’s pretty reasonable. If you could scan them and then reuse them or if you don’t have any CAD skills to create them and you’re constantly having to outsource that. That maybe where our things fall apart because we found out pretty recently that there’s just so many great outsources to do, really reasonably priced things that you don’t even have to spend a lot of time printing either if you didn’t want to. I think if you’ve got a lot of skill there, if you got a lot of needs there that you think are going to recur, then definitely take the time, get one, learn how to use it and get yourself the minimum amount of skills you need to accomplish what you want to accomplish.
I met someone who was doing retrofits on antique cars. That to me seems like the logical way. If you would want to learn, you might want to have a scanner, that makes a lot of sense there. You might want to have a scanner, learn enough CAD to be able to repair the missing areas or broken pieces. Make sure you know enough about that. Then have a printer yourself because the fit will always be like, “It doesn’t fit quite right. I got to make it a little bigger.” You’ll have a lot of iterations you go through. Perfect, perfect reason to buy a 3D printer.
The second reason is education. It’s our kids. I love that we have this 3D printer in the house. This is a really good example. If you have a sewing machine, I think you should consider buying a 3D printer. I liken a 3D printer to a sewing machine all that time. Our daughter is eight years old and we bought her for her eighth birthday a sewing machine. She had an interest, she wanted a sewing machine, she wanted to learn how to sew. I loved the idea that she wanted to, that’s exactly the same age I learned how to sew. We decided to buy her a sewing machine. Her nana bought her a sewing machine.
Then we gave her classes. She’s been taking these classes at this great little place called Fashion Camp in OC. It’s amazing here. They have this 101 class where she learned how to use the machine, she learned how to straight stitch, she practiced it. It was a perfect maker solution to me because she physically walked away with something that was useful. She didn’t just stitch on a piece of fabric until she had a bunch of straight lines. She did do that, but at the end of the day she walked away with this bag she made. After that, it’s been a whole bunch of different projects. She’s done actually three different dresses. She made one for her and her sister matching, which they wore to the rehearsal dinner at Alex’s wedding, which is adorable.
To the point where people said, “Oh my goodness, this is so great. You should start a fashion business,” which she’s seriously considering. She would like to call it Hazz Style. It sounds good. But then she’s gone on to do a bag that was very useful and a backpack. She’s just so into it. She’s going to keep doing it. She came to us this weekend with another idea. This is the thing, we firmly believe in getting to the basics of anything that you need to learn how to do, which means that you go old school sometimes. They offered up a sketching class this past weekend and we sent her to sketching class because I feel very strongly that if you’re going to sew, you can be a technician and you can absolutely sew, follow patterns and directions. But if you want to sew something original, you better learn how to sketch, you better learn how to draw out your idea and think that all the way through.
Maybe one day she may take CAD and learn how to do fashion in computer aided design, like I learned textile patterning that way. That may be great, but today, I’d love her for her to learn the basics, start at the very beginning and sketching. She had so much fun sketching and doing it that she came and said, “Can I 3D print some of these things?” I said, “Yeah. We still have to create computer models of it, but let’s start with something small.” She was like, “Like what?” I said, “You could 3D print buttons.” We’ve talked about that in an episode before. It’s a great project. It’s also really small scale so it could happen quickly.
It’s very good feedback. You can give a very quick satisfaction of accomplishing something and learning about it and having success, using it to really a great benefit. Think about that, 3D printing your own buttons not only for form or design, but color, dimension, and just making a garment that’s more unique. I think it’s fantastic. I’m really excited about her doing that. She can use them as embellishments or actual functional objects. We thought it was a great idea and so we said, “We’re going to work on that. We’re going to start talking about that. You can start sketching some ideas and then we’ll help you get it setup in the CAD system to be able to start doing that.”
To be honest with you, I think she’s old enough right now that we can set her off because we’ve got two printers now, we could let her learn how to start one. She’s already been hanging around and helping me with it so much. It’s not a big leap. Maybe not change filament because she’s probably not tall enough and that’s probably a little more difficult, but other than that I think there’s no reason she can’t just start up the machine and run it and take stuff off the plate. She’s old enough to learn that right now. We’re happy and comfortable with that. That’s a perfect solution.
Education is a great example. Obviously, we know we have a lot of educators who listen to the podcast. We’re not telling you anything you don’t already realize yourselves. But I think that we find a lot of people we talk to, who we meet just out in our community or at different conferences and things we attend, of course I’m always wearing a tie that’s 3D printed or something so we get a lot of questions about it. People are like, “What can you do? What could I do? Why should I do it?” There’s so many things to consider.
I think of it like exposure. In this day and age, you wouldn’t skip having a computer in your house in some way, shape or form. You’re going to expose your kids, you’re going to expose them to a computer. Whether or not you have restrictions and however you want to personally manage that as a parent, that’s your choice, but you wouldn’t not give them access to that. That would hurt them in the long run. That’s how I see 3D printing today and I really do see that.
Lannea, our eight year old we were just talking about, her school did a little segment on STEM projects and 3D printing. They got a 3D printer at the tail end of last school year. Lannea actually showed them how to use it. She was already up there. She was already exposed to it. Having that in the process, because it’s going to be happening in your schools, the earlier you do that, the better off they are, the more comfortable they are with that. You wouldn’t not expose to how to use a toaster oven or a microwave in your kitchen. We expose them how to use a stove and all of those things. These are appliances, and at the end of the day this may very well be a household appliance.
It may not happen, there’s some arguments about whether it’s going to tip or not. But the reality is that, do we really want to just ignore and not expose, especially when the cost, there are so many low cost ones. I don’t remember the episode we had, but where we had a guy who wanted to buy it for his family and his kids and he ended up offering up a whole group lesson and bought it for the neighborhood. They were sharing it in their community, their very local community in their neighborhood. Your girl scout troop, whatever it might be, this is a great way to go about doing that. Buy it as a group or something like that.
There’s a lot of different options here. Go to a makerspace, try it out. There’s all these different options to that. We really just feel that educational exposure sparks quite a lot of imagination, experimentation and future skill building that they’re going to need. This is a shortage, there is an absolute shortage of skilled labor in 3D printing right now. I hear it all the time in computer aided design. I’m getting nothing but requests for like, “Where can I find more skilled labor?” That’s constant. This is a good skill for us to be giving our next generation. That, to me, is the ideal reason to do it.
That’s one of the biggest reasons in my opinion. Because not everybody is a designer, an engineer or wants to be. But I think that if you aren’t somehow getting your child exposure to all that 3D printing can do, then you’re doing them a disservice. It’s one thing to learn how to code or learn how to work in the computer, but when you physically feel it in your hand, it has a different effect on a person, especially at that learning age. They have a possibility that they didn’t have prior to that. I think that’s powerful, that’s what we really seen. Lannea doesn’t think that anything is impossible. She’s like, “We’ll just make it.” I love that attitude. It’s something that 30 years ago, you wouldn’t have really been able to say. We can draw it or we can try and make a model of it, but the model wasn’t going to be real or functional. It’s changed. It’s created such a paradigm shift.
Let’s talk about it from a business perspective. If you have CAD skills, I just want to step back to that, if you have CAD skills in any way, shape or form, there’s a really good reason why you might want it. It’s just like no reason not to. You’re missing out, you could be having a lot of fun. From a businesses’ perspective, I hear this all the time, it’s a big question that happens when businesses are asking me about whether or not they should consider investing in a 3D printer. I think it does matter what kind of business you are.
I was just having this discussion with a company that does and advises retailers. They advise to small to mid size retailers, they might be a chain of a couple of stores or they might be a couple of hundred stores. They advise them on disruptive technology, innovation that’s happening, whether it’s happening on the app basis or it’s happening in eCommerce or it’s happening in 3D printing. He asked me the question, “Where is it with 3D printing? Is this really going to happen?” I said, “I am seeing time and time again so many great small case studies of it working very successfully, creating a differentiation, creating a powerful reason for people to come into your shop or into your store that I don’t see how it’s not going to eventually tip. The biggest problem is that people aren’t stepping in to invest and try it. It needs time for you to learn how to do it, learn how to manage it and envision the possibility of what it can do for you.”
Example, we talked last week about our experience making 3D print designs for the wedding, the wedding favors. I had met with multiple times the wedding planner, Dana, at DB Creativity. I adore her. She’s very creative. She creates this cardboard cutout and lots of themes. She does a lot of theme bar mitzvahs and stuff like that in addition to weddings. I mentioned how great 3D printing would be for that before, but until she saw them, the a-ha and the creativity in her brain didn’t really go off. I think that that’s the difference right there. When you see what you can do with it, when you maybe get an employee in who trains themselves on it, you invest in letting them learn, send them to classes, whatever you need to do, or let them just have time in their job to experiment with it. I think you’re going to really be surprised at what it can add to your business, add to how you’re going to manage it in the business future. Think of it like a research and design investment.
Not only that, I think it can allow a business like that, and many different kinds of businesses, it doesn’t have to be that kind of business, but can allow them to be able to provide a level of service that’s unexpected. There’s incredible opportunity to differentiate your business, to standout, especially if your business is, I would say, one that there’s a lot of other businesses that do similar things. You may be unique, you have a unique take on it, but there may be a lot of other businesses in your category out there. You can set yourself apart and just provide that surprise and give just something a little extra.
I have an example that I can share. If anybody has ever seen pictures of us podcasting, we created this little 3D printed mic blocks underneath our microphones that were brand with our show. We have a different company that produces podcast for other people, which isn’t really the point here, but we provide equipment for those customers. Instead of just providing them a microphone, we provide them a microphone that’s branded with their podcast and we 3D print that mic block.
That way we can do different colors and we just do them on the fly. We didn’t have to invest in making a bunch and tooling for it. But the surprise and the amount of times that people are like, “Wow, that was such great service. That was such an add on. That was so wonderful. It made me feel so good about working with you.” It makes them feel like their podcast is more real too. Even if it hasn’t published yet, they get that mic to start recording and it already has their show graphic identity on it in a unique way. It definitely delights them.
Just to recap where we are with that, we think that education is extremely important and experimentation is extremely important, whether it’s personally or professionally. I really think also that you just want to really clearly go about analyzing and deciding for yourself whether or not you’re willing to give it enough time. That would be the only other caveat. If you expect to be up and running and being great at this in 30 days, I think that’s not the way most people experience. It’s a longer journey, but it’s very worth it.
I think in six months, you’re going to feel really competent in it, whether you’ve had to refine how you learn CAD, relearn some things about it or just learn it all outright enough to be useful and learn enough of the sites you want to go to download things if that’s the way you want to go. But learn the good ones to go to because you’re going to surf through a lot of junk. Give yourself that six month timeframe and then six months to have some fun and see where you can take it, where you can push it and what you can do with it. I think from that, especially in a professional basis, be realistic about if an employee comes to you and says, “I think we should invest in a 3D printer,” to expect to after 30 days they’re making you money on it, that’s just so unrealistic. I think that you really need to reframe that in your thought process.
Still, I do think the out of manufactured parts or obsolete parts is still a really good thing. I’m thinking back to my sister’s 1965 Airstream Trailer. We helped her renovate that, but it was before desktop 3D printing. We would’ve used it for several things that I’m thinking of on that trailer had it been around. There’s still a really good case for that, among many other cases. This is a relatively short podcast, I’m sure we’re not thinking of everything and certainly don’t have time to go over everything. I think that the reasons for buying a 3D printer though are increasing. I don’t think they’re decreasing. I still think it is in an upward trend.
That’s one of the most common questions we got. We thought we’d address it because it’s probably buried in one of the 400 plus early episodes. We thought we’d address that again and then refresh our thoughts on it as well. Hope you enjoyed that. Come back tomorrow for another episode. You can always find all sorts of information about us on 3DStartPoint.com as well as see images and all kinds of videos and other things that we usually put into the blog post from these episodes. You can also find us on social media @3DStartPoint.
Thanks for listening, everyone. We’ll see you next time. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
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