The Post-Finishing Waste Land

When you show a 3D printed product to someone who has not seen a 3D printed piece before, there is significant chance that the conversation will be about the material. And that is not surprising. 3D printed pieces look rough, show “printing lines”, and feel different than regular materials.

For purely functional pieces that is not an issue. But often the aesthetic component is as important as the functional component of a product.

It is not so much about the capabilities of what can come out of 3D printer. It has been proven that a lot of things can be 3D printed. But is the material of the right type to be acceptable for a particular use case.

Does it have the right weight?
Does it have the right feel?
Does it have the right texture?

We can wait until 3D printing processes improve with new materials and new deposition methods to overcome the quirky aesthetic. But at the same time, there are real options out there to apply existing finishing options to 3D printed pieces.

The challenge is that many of the post-finishing processes are geared towards mass-production of products. And this does not apply to 3D printing. I have this beautiful vapor-smoothed FDM printed bowl. It is gorgeous but the process never made it to mass 3D printing because it was too cumbersome to scale. The interesting aspect of it though is that whenever I show it someone nobody asks about the material anymore.

I see many companies struggling with the concept of bring 3D printed parts to live with post-finishing. It brings a whole new level of complexity. And it needs more attention.