With the rise in popularity and accessibility of 3D printing for a wide range of applications, realities similar to the Star Trek replicator or other sci-fi technologies may not be as far-fetched as initially seems. Being able to order something online and have it printed at home or choosing dinner and firing up the printer instead of the oven might sound crazy but could realistically be on the horizon.

If this future sounds far-fetched or hard to believe, that's understandable. Think back to a time before microwaves and computers were present in every home. The thought of adding an electromagnetic radiation generating box to warm food quickly instead of the oven or adding a bulky computation machine to the family living room seemed pretty far-fetched too. Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, said at a 1977 World Future Society convention that he “saw no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” The future often sounds unbelievable until it arrives. See what companies are doing today to make this future a reality.

Same-day shipping will feel like snail mail

What if ordering a product and having to wait for it to arrive became a relic of the past? As at home 3D printing technology becomes mainstream, the idea of complicated supply chains with many moving parts will lose any remaining advantages. With manufacturing able to happen right on the kitchen counter, companies will shift to selling information: the IP of their product.

Picture, for example, a company selling a widget. The raw materials for this widget are produced in Kansas, shipped via truck to a port in Louisiana, loaded onto a boat to China where it is turned into the widget being sold. The widget is then loaded back on a boat where it is shipped to California, unloaded and put on a plane. All of this and the widget still hasn’t reached the end user.

What if instead, the consumer could press a button and 3D-print the widget. In a few hours, they have exactly the item they wanted and the process is simplified for everyone involved. As the cost of at home 3D printers has fallen below $300, the technology is becoming more and more accessible. The possibilities expand everyday for different use cases.

3D printing food and drinks

3D printing liquids for drinks has entered the horizon, as well: meet a company already well on its way. Cana is developing a molecular beverage printer able to prepare whatever drink you want on demand, which won't be limited to one genre of drink like the current market offers with coffee makers or soda creators. 3D printing beverages is also more sustainable due to the massive decrease in waste from bottles.

Most 3D printers for food today work well with pastes or other extrudable foods like pancake batter. Source: Cybrain/Adobe StockMost 3D printers for food today work well with pastes or other extrudable foods like pancake batter. Source: Cybrain/Adobe Stock

Most 3D printers for food today work well with pastes or other extrudable foods; think chocolate, mashed potatoes, pancake batter or pasta. Companies such as mycuisini are focused specifically on bringing 3D printing to kitchens around the world. Just as with product based 3D printers, material science has to catch up, but 3D printing of more complete foods is not that far around the corner.

Rare and replacement parts

Often thought of as the low-hanging fruit for 3D printing at home, rare and replacement parts benefit both the consumer and the manufacturer when the parts can be 3D-printed at home. Because the parts are costly to store and keep up with, they are a bone of contention for many manufacturers. Even with the added headaches, parts can be a lucrative division for many companies and are certainly needed to keep appliances working.

Consumers want parts more readily available but volumes are too low to justify making that a reality. With 3D printing, that changes. In the future when an appliance breaks and needs a new part, the user could simply pay a fee for the file and print a new one right at home. This scenario is a win-win not only for the consumer who gets the part instantly, but also the company making the sale with very little cost.

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True at-home shopping

Not that long ago, shopping for clothes meant leaving the house and going store to store to try on clothes. Much of that shopping experience has already been replaced by e-commerce. With quick shipping times and easy returns, a high percentage of apparel sales came online; especially during the pandemic beginning in 2020. What if those items could have been printed right at home?

Designers such as Danit Peleg are exploring new territories when it comes to 3D-printed clothing. As the technology progresses and layers are able to be deposited more and more like the threads used in modern clothing, the futuristic dream of 3D-printed clothing at home becomes a reality. 3D-printed clothing is already thought to be more apt for automation and also reduces material waste considerably. Additionally, companies are already adopting the technology as part of their production process.

From 3D-printing at home to 3D-printing a home

Even large structures are ripe for disruption from 3D printing. The standard for home construction of the future may very well be 3D-printed. Materials like concrete make for wonderful building materials while also being uniquely suited for 3D printing. Companies like Alquist 3D are already building homes with this technology. Building sturdy, reliable and sustainable homes in record breaking time means this tech might have some teeth to it already. The company claims to build a three-bedroom home in under 30 hours.

Materials like concrete make for wonderful building substances while also being uniquely suited for 3D printing. Source: mari1408/Adobe StockMaterials like concrete make for wonderful building substances while also being uniquely suited for 3D printing. Source: mari1408/Adobe Stock

As time goes on, 3D printing technology at home will improve in countless ways. Many of the uses for at home 3D printing probably aren’t even imaginable today. What is sure to happen is that humanity will think up new, ingenious ways to use additive manufacturing technology as costs fall and features improve.

About the author

Nick Ysidron is an engineer who specializes in product development and technical writing. He previously worked for an OEM equipment manufacturer leading a team of engineers and designers in building custom equipment for the commercial and industrial HVAC sectors. Nick currently designs IoT devices, as well as lending his talents to DIY and maker type projects.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com