March 12, 2014

3D Printers and Sewing Machines

Slate recently published an article about 3d printing in which the author compared it to the sewing machine.

Consider: Once upon a time, people purchased sewing patterns…and they made their own clothes. I wasn’t alive back then, but I’m pretty sure the process sucked. It took lots of time and effort and the clothes were often amateurishly constructed….Most people would much rather just get their clothes from a store—already assembled by people employing industrial-level efficiency and a wide variety of materials.
I like this analogy for two reasons.

The relationship between tools and crafts.

Like the sewing machine, 3D printers are ultimately tools. The work a tool produces is as good as the craftsman who uses the tool. I believe eventually this will change, as 3D printing become less about creating than about modifying other’s creations, or simply printing pre-existing designs.

Both are revolutionary

The article glosses over this point. In fact, they claim quite the opposite. That sewing machines are used by the few, and most avoid the technology in favor of buying off the rack. However, it is the sewing machines that enable them to buy off the rack. In that sense, sewing machine are revolutionary. I believe so is 3D printing. Though, where as sewing machines enabled mass manufacturing, 3D printing will do quite the opposite—revolutionary nonetheless.