Because giving away a free 3D printer with every big ticket hardware sale could ultimately cut support costs

Include a 3D printer with my product? Are you crazy?

It gets you off the hook from having to provide spare parts

And if you provide a mobile app for downloading the CAD files of the parts that your customers will want to print, you potentially get real-time feedback on replaceable component failures.

There are lucrative business models oozing from every pore of this

Offer discounts and freebies to any customers who send you back CAD files of any useful new modifications, modded spares and accessories they have created for your product, and maybe even offer a cash reward (for each unit sold) if they agree to let you offer them for sale to other customers.

Why not include free 3D scanning tools as well?

What about auto makers doing this?

Car ticket prices are certainly high enough for the cost of a few hundred dollars worth of gadgetry to be something they can ‘lose’ within the marketing budget for each vehicle sold and they’ll eventually get it all back (and then some) from savings on unsold spares inventory and shipping costs.

Do you really have to perform a ‘whole product lifecycle analysis’ to know that replacing spares provision with 3D printing is a green issue?

For ‘replacing spare parts provision with customer-implemented 3D printing’ to turn out to be an environmental mistake, I would imagine that the carbon footprint of 3D printers and 3D printing of spare parts would have to exceed that of spares manufacturing, stockpiling, waste disposal and dispatch combined.

The special concerns that carmakers would have in this context are inevitably going to be about safety and also the impact upon the existing parts supply market, but when ‘bold moves beckon’, ways and means can usually be found; after all, where else would anyone want to put a 3D printer but in their garage?

And if the manufacturers aren’t going to make the first move, what about dealers, especially used car dealerships:

Free 3D printer with this model, so get yourself a fresh set of wheels (in this case that’s just a metaphor for the car, nothing to do with printing) and we’ll throw in something for the kids (yes, the 3D printer can be sold as a toy) too!

Now it might not be a brilliant idea to the mention the spares printing rationale up front: the salesperson might feel that any talk of parts failure could easily put the prospect in entirely the wrong frame of mind for a car purchase!

But in future, the relationship between spare parts and 3D printing may have become so ingrained within consumer culture that they will have become essentially synonymous.

The real problem for manufacturers will be the requirement to make new cars that people will want to replace their old ones with, once the old ones are perpetually repairable and redesignable.

Realistically, there’s little reason to believe that ‘entire body shape redesign’ will be anywhere near the capabilities of a giveaway device that is best suited to making small replacement parts.

If at some point something as substantial as major car redesign does become inexpensive enough to be DIY, the issue of whether or not to give away a 3D printer with a car will probably have long since lost its potential to influence a purchasing decision.

Nonetheless, further into the future, who knows, the spectre of indefinitely postponeable product replacement may prove to be the ultimate innovation incentive: people would probably still buy an iPhone 9, even if they could print out an iPhone 8.

But back to the issue of spare parts

Obsolescence is over!

Support is forever (alone)!

Disposable? What a quaint idea.

Wear and tear? Just mend and make do.

For ultra-high-end models (of cars, or of anything really expensive) why not also throw in a small CNC machine so that customers can do the same 3D thing with the metalwork?

But for everything else…

A bit just snapped off of something old and irreplaceable?

A family heirloom fell and broke into pieces?

Quick, fire up the replicator before anyone notices!

3D printing is not just the future of making things you don’t have, it’s the future of making things that you do have immortal.

“I wish to register a complaint!”

“Listen, this is the third time you’ve been in here, I just can’t take it any more, why don’t you just take one of these infernal contraptions home with you and print yourself a lovely new parrot?”.

“I was thinking of having this poor specimen stuffed, will that machine…?”

“Look, unless you depart my establishment forthwith, I shall feel compelled to withdraw my gracious offer of an additive manufacturing instrument and replace it with this injection molding machine, a device with which I can enthusiastically demonstrate more appropriate taxidermic capabilities upon both your good self and your unfortunate cadaverous Scandinavian zygodactyl