The 3D Printing Hype Cycle

3D printing continues to transform industry, put power into the hands of amateur creators and gain widespread adoption.

In education however many people that I speak to have entered the trough of disillusionment as they realize that 3D printing technology, at the price point that most schools can afford, is still problematic. The reality is that it requires some expertise. It requires patience. It requires an investment of your time in figuring out how they work, how to troubleshoot and probably one of the more overlooked skills – competence with a CAD package.

A typical journey of skill acquisition is as follows:

This is where you think “This is awesome!” and then promptly head over to Thingiverse and download and print a miniature Yoda Head on your new 3D Printer.

Advanced Beginner
You have printed a number of small objects and are thinking “This is still awesome! How do I make my own stuff?” So you go over to TinkerCAD, start playing around and follow some of the tutorials. Inevitably you get frustrated. So you download and print a T-Rex head that takes 22 hours to print.

And this is where the skill acquisition usually stops because the next level requires a steep learning curve. TinkerCAD is great, but to take yourself to the next level you need to invest some time in SolidWorks or AutoCAD – industry standard platforms used by real designers and engineers. Spend 100 hours learning one of these packages and you will be on your way. Also, nothing will accelerate your understanding of 3D Printing technology like actually building one. So I recommend buying a Printrbot kit and putting it together. During this build you reach the stage of competency.

You are making some progress but start thinking “This is hard.” Solidworks won’t quite do what you want it to do or you find that you have assembled your Printrbot wrong. At this point you throw a mini tantrum and think “This is shit” immediately followed by “I’m shit.” Don’t despair though. Keep at it and you will reach the Proficient stage.

You get over your tantrum, get your Printrbot working and think “This might be ok.” You feel pretty good about your CAD skills. You are making your 3D printer sing. You start incorporating cross-curricular design challenges with your students. Someone at work tells you that they have broken a part on their pBone. A pBone is a fully functioning dual bore Eb alto trombone constructed in ABS and glass fibre. With all the benefits of the normal trombone but smaller and lighter. An ideal instrument for beginners.


You take a look at the part, which is called a water key and say “leave it with me.” You go away and replicate the object in Solidworks and then print it out.

Much like the early personal computers, 3D Printers are a game changer. Its what you can do with them that matters most.

Then you think “This really is awesome.”

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