Even Charles Hull, the man who invented 3D printing, thinks the hype surrounding the technology has gone too far.
In a recent interview with Quartz, Hull, the inventor of the technology behind 3D printing and the co-founder and CTO of 3D Systems, acknowledged that some of the grandiose expectations for 3D printing may come to fruition one day in the far-away future, but urged the industry and media to instead focus on more realistic applications for the present day.
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"Some writers and people who talk about 3D printing get over-enthused," Hull told Quartz. "Most of the stuff they talk about will happen someday — eventually. But there’s the here-and-now and the near-term future, where a lot of that stuff is definitely hype and won’t happen."
Hull attributes this understanding partly to the complexity of the technology. Quite simply, he thinks the journalists and bloggers covering the technology aren’t educated on the technology well enough to know when they may be blowing 3D printing’s potential as a standalone technology out of proportion.
"There’s a lot of things in the digital-manufacturing world that are advancing together to really improve local manufacturing. Sometimes 3D printing is used as a substitute word for the whole digital-manufacturing field," Hull said. "And you kind of have to be in the manufacturing realm to understand or appreciate that. It may be OK that 3D printing is used as a shorthand, but it’s only a part of a broader movement."
Hull is being generous when chalking it up to a learning curve, which definitely exists, but doesn’t contribute to the hype as much as the excitement over a technology that can create human body parts, guns, and pizza on-demand.
But Hull’s comments bring up an interesting question – how long can the hype last? As Hull said in the interview, the day-to-day work in the field typically addresses individual problems at hand, “without too much vision for the longer-term totality of it.” By this point, 3D printing coverage has already covered all of its bases, from the groundbreaking real-life applications in healthcare to the long-term visions of at-home food printing. The 3D printing industry will spend a lot of time working to make the hype a reality, but until it does, the hype will die down. There’s nothing too exciting about a bunch of people going to work every day.