Move Along Internet Cafés, It’s 3D Printing Cafés’ Turn

Remember back in the day when, while traveling, you depended on an Internet café to check email and weather? Back when you could complete a crossword puzzlein the time it took for your computer to connect to the Web over a phone line (buzz, boing-boing)? This was well before there was a weather application on your clunky flip phone; back then, “application” meant little more than something you’d fill out to be considered for a job position.

Today, no café would survive without supplying a robust (and free) WiFi connection. Providing Internet access is just the cost of doing business: it attracts customers who hang out all day long working from a computer while sipping lattes.

Some cafés are venturing into new territory with a new breed of services. Like the cat cafés, long popular in Japan (there are 40 in Tokyo!), that are just beginning to get their claws into the European and American café scenes. The purring felines offer relaxation, companionship, and a serotonin boost (mood-improver) to the stressed-out writers and entrepreneurs that sit over bright screens and dark roasts all day long.  

But, for patrons who prefer to stay amped-up and plugged into the next big technology, they’ll be happy to learn about the next big thing in java huts: the 3D printing café.

Quite like the Internet has, 3D printing is changing how business is done. Used in manufacturing since the early 1990s to produce a one-off model (known as Rapid Prototyping) before committing to mass production, 3D printing technology is coming to the masses by way of service outposts, such as coffee houses. 

The 3DLab Fab&Café in Buenos Aires, opened last August, lives up to its name as a coffee shop that also conveniently offers 3D printing. This SmartPlanet article gives a great overview of this new café concept; one that I think will be heading our way sooner than later.

On their way to becoming a common household appliance, 3D printers pop up, not just in cafés, but in stores, schools, and businesses of all sizes. The move from industrial machine to mass appliance — just like cars, telephones, televisions, computers, printers and, of course, WiFi — always makes a pit-stop at one form of community center or another, which defines today’s cafés. The next technology to follow this trajectory is likely to be immersive gaming rooms, capable of simulating any environment, from an Alpine chalet to Hogwarts’ Great Hall to the research station on Mars. Stay tuned, and stay caffeinated!

I see this as the midway point between 3D printers as industrial use and in-home fixtures. Over time, I envision these printers becoming something as ubiquitous as a desktop computer in your home office. For now, however, if you need to rapidly prototype an object, you can just head over to your local 3D printing café.