Once you get into 3D printing, your eyes open to the million ways daily life around the house could be improved with a 3D-printed part. My house is steadily filling up with little plastic items in “prototype pink”—the color of a spool of PLA that came free with my printer. In the near-future, I foresee a marketplace for 3D designers to custom-design these types of parts for normal consumers (i.e. non-3D-printing enthusiasts).

Some of my household 3D prints are generally-applicable items, like this honeycomb support structure for my water pitcher and soap dispensers. It allows airflow around the bottom of the container, where water used to pool and develop into a gross scum. Someone might conceivably mass-produce these little things if there was sufficient demand.

But most of my household 3D prints are idiosyncratic. They’re custom-fit to something particular to my house. Like this remote control holder…

…or these riser-pyramids to aim my projector down, so it doesn’t light up my ceiling.

For specialized items like this, there will never be a market to justify production at scale. But the cost to print these parts is approximately $0. The only real cost is the time required to measure and design the items.

What if you could just buy a 3D printer, describe your desired part, and have someone else do the design?

Here’s how I imagine it working:

  1. You open the 3D4U app (I’m making this name up) and point your phone at the place where you need a 3D print done (maybe with a fiducial to improve scale precision).
  2. It captures the image and dimensions of the space.
  3. You describe what you need designed and post the Request For Model (RFM).
  4. Someone on the other side of the globe sees the posting, whips up a 3D model, and sends it with a bid.
  5. Your phone buzzes. You’ve got a response. Tap the notif, and 3D4U shows you a rendering of your model. Point your phone at the space where the print will go, and ARKit renders it into the scene you’re looking at through your camera.
  6. With one tap, you pay the designer and get access to the model. One more tap sends the model to your printer for fabrication.
  7. An hour later, your phone buzzes again. The print is done. You put it in place and try it out.
  8. One of the dimensions is slightly off. You tweak a parameter in the model right in the 3D4U app, and send the revised print back to your printer.
  9. Once the model fits properly, a few more taps in 3D4U sends the model out to a shop for high-quality fabrication in the material of your choice (wood, machined-aluminum, whatever…), and ships it to your door.

This whole system could be rigged-up with today’s technology, through some combination of Fiverr, ARKit, and Shapeways. The main obstacle is probably lack of widespread 3D printer ownership. Once you can get one for $100 in an Apple Store, and millions of people buy them, maybe we’ll see 3D4U.