What Is Consumer 3-D Printing Really Good For?

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As the co-founder and CEO of SOLS, a startup that manufactures custom 3-D printed orthotic insoles using scans of customers' feet, Kegan Schouwenburg is frustrated that consumer 3-D printing's most popular application is turning Internet memes into printed models.

Schouwenburg started SOLS, at least in part, to elevate the technology's status from a buzzword to something that actually improves the way products are designed. For years, items -- from memes, to bobble heads to phone cases -- have been 3-D printed primarily because the technology itself is headline grabbing. As Schouwenburg points out, this isn’t the case with most manufacturing technologies. "Nobody is going around saying, 'this is so cool because it was injection molded,'" she says. "They're saying ‘this is a great product because it's better and improves my life in some way.'"

Related: This Startup Is Bringing 3-D Printed Insoles to the NBA and the Everyday Consumer

This disconnect between consumer 3-D printing’s usefulness and the flurry of media coverage it continues to generate helps explain why, according to the research group Gartner, the technology is about face a backlash when it fails to live up to our collective expectations. According to the group’s 2014 "hype cycle," 3-D printing has just passed the "peak of inflated expectations" and is headed for the "trough of disillusionment."

"It’s cresting," Schouwenburg agrees. SOLS completed its seed round in early 2014. "We raised money at the right time. Now, there’s so much disillusionment. It’s this attitude of, 'you promised us that this technology was going to change the world and yet still, we’re making green plastic dinosaurs! What's going on here?'"

Watch the video to hear Schouwenburg's talk about 3-D printing's potential to revolutionize the way we think about customization. 

Related: This 3-D Printed Fashion Show Pushes Haute Couture in a New Direction


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