What I Learned At London's 3D Printshow

<p>3D printed iPhone cases are plentiful. And so are plastic figurines.</p>

I love the smell of additive manufacturing in the morning. Or afternoon, which is about the time that I turned up at London’s first ever 3D Printshow, which rolled into town this weekend and opened its doors to the press and trade on Friday. It was a smorgasbord of 3D printed curiosities, from guitars to printed gold to lampshades, and figurines. Lots of figurines.

If you’ve been following the dissemination and evolution of 3D printing on the blogs (particularly ours, you’ll have a familiarity with a lot of what was there, with all the usual suspects like MakerBot and Shapeways showcasing their products and technologies. It was certainly a show of might from the industry and a warning that its time is coming. It made you think that, while it might still be an industry going through its adolescence, soon it’ll have that breakthrough moment and then, well, these people will be the new Googles and Apples of the world and will probably become incredibly rich.

3D printed fetus

So, walking around looking at 3D printed models of fetuses and Batman, taking in the intricate and elaborate designs and the many iPhone covers, what can we learn?

3D printed homes aren't that homely, but still look cool

Look at this house. Look how much like a strange insectoid structure it looks. Would you want to live here? Probably not, but it looks pretty awesome. It was created by Softkill Design using algorithms that “micro organise the printed material itself.” This model is at 1:33 scale and consists of 30 pieces which can be assembled into one continuous cantilevering structure without any adhesive. It also has built-in features like stairs and furniture.

3D printed fashion has nailed that futuristic aesthetic

If you want to see fashion that looks like it’s just stepped off the fast train from the future, then take a look at 3D printed fashion. Its shoes and dresses look like what you half-imagined—and were led to believe—fashion from the 21st century might look like when you were a kid, except even more bizarre. It looks “other” with its wavy, spiky, and intricate designs, ones which could be in a Ridley Scott sci-fi prequel. Designs which look like remnants of an alien civilization.

The toy, collectibles, ornament, and souvenir industries are in trouble

Everywhere you look there was a replica Yoda bust or a Batman figurine or a Voldemort head. There were models of the Eiffel Tower and little rabbits and robots and dragons and customisable dolls that could be 3D printed and have electronics added to them. So in the future, why buy LEGO bricks or ornaments or figurines when you can print them out? Once you get your hands on a design then hey, presto, you can even add your own unique spin. Hey look, my Batman toy’s got my face! The Eiffel Tower has the feet of an elephant!

A helluva lot of different industries are using 3D printing

Fashion, architecture, archeology, interior design, jewelry design, healthcare, sculpture, animation, VFX, manufacturing—the list seems endless, from replicating Neanderthal man’s skull to building an architectural showroom model, to building Iron Man’s mask, or creating your wedding ring, the uses for this technology are off the chain.

There’s a lot of money to be made
At the moment, the market has a lot of different 3D printers that you can buy or use, from open source designs to the top end gold printing kind. And, as the technology either comes into our homes or appears at the local corner shop, a whole industry’s going to burgeon along with it. Software, hardware, from how-tos to online design platforms for all different ages and skill sets, a whole industry’s worth of infrastructure will crop up around it, just the same as there was around the PC. And that means lots of money to be spent and made.

Photos: Alexis Hamilton