In August, Gartner released their yearly report called Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. 3D printing is part of this report for the last couple of years. This year Gartner’s analysts have positioned 3D printing at the peak of inflated expectations. It certainly feels as that 3D printed cannot be hyped more than it is today.
I can remember a few of the larger technology hypes of the past. At the end of 90s, ecommerce was definitely a hype. Online internet stores would be the end of all malls. Everybody and all goods would be ordered over the web. Ecommerce has gotten big, but it has made no real dent in physical retail. Tell me how many shopping malls have closed due to Amazon?
A little more specific example was the opening of the Amazon bookstore. The consensus was that all bookstores would fold. That never happened. Now Ebooks are actually causing bookstores to close.
Another one was open source software. The expectation was that open source software would replace all commercial software. Companies like Microsoft made it even their number 1 threat at the time. Today open software is indeed ubiquitous, but Microsoft still exists, kept its monopoly on desktop OS and office software and is doing financially quite well.
I can also vividly remember the hype on 3D on the web. In the late 90s, VRML was a definitely hype. According to mainstream media and experts 3D on the web would be the future. Everybody would browse and shop in 3D in a few years. Today we see a small revival of that hype with the introduction of WebGL. But 3D on the web is still not ubiquitous — and besides for some specific applications like games and visualizations — there is no real use of it on the web today.
To me, 3D printing is definitely overhyped. The media generally lacks details on the actual capabilities and performance of 3D printers. If you take those into account, the picture is much more sobering than how they would like to portray it.
3D printing is fundamentally interesting technology, and it will bring many advancements in manufacturing. I have written about this before, and I remain a huge believer in 3D printing. But it is not all what the media tries to make it.