A few years ago, one of the most-hyped new technologies was the arrival of 3D printing. The idea of being able to fabricate almost anything you might need on demand, with no particular expertise or materials, seemed like the first step into a Star Trek-like future.
Fast forward to today and things haven't quite worked out as well as some of the most optimistic promoters of the technology had hoped. That's not to say the technology isn't doing great things - in sectors such as healthcare and manufacturing, it's proving hugely valuable. For example, the ability to craft bespoke medical device implants that are tailored to each individual patient, or create new prototype designs quickly and cheaply can transform how we think about making items.
For smaller-scale projects, however, things seem to have gone a little quiet on the 3D printing front, with one of the key questions about the technology being just how useful it actually is in a consumer environment. Most early demonstrations of 3D-printed products focused on trinkets and toys that, while a nice gimmick, were never going to change the world.
However, 3D printing still has its uses. With a bit of time and the right tools, there are a wide range of things anyone can make with a consumer device that are actually useful and can make their lives a little bit easier in the home or the office. Here are five that we like.
1. Take control of your storage
We could probably all use a bit more order in our lives, and 3D printing could hold the answer with the set of great stackable, interlocking storage units. Completely modular, you can arrange them however you want and simply print out more to cope with the ever-expanding clutter. Download the files and get creative with how you put them together - each section can be printed out in around five to six hours.
2. Keep your cable spaghetti in check
Do you get fed up with spending your time getting your earphone cables untangled? Help is at hand with a 3D printer. Check out this simple but effective earbud holder that you can craft in just 30 minutes. Or, if it's your PC setup that's causing headaches, retake control with these simple cable holders to help make your desk a less cluttered place.
3. Look stylish while you keep hydrated
For some reason, bottle openers have always been popular 3D printing projects, so if you want to make a mundane task a little more interesting, there's no shortage of options. One of the more impressive is this universal bottle opener that can be applied to containers of all shapes and sizes, and is perfect for anyone who finds standard options a struggle. Alternatively, how about this cool one-handed design that lets you grab a bottle and pop it open in one movement.
4. Enjoy your music wherever you are
We all love our smartphones, and we all love great music, so a 3D printed stand that lets you combine the two sounds like an excellent idea. There are actually a couple of designs out there for iPhone docks that incorporate clever amplifiers to give the tiny built-in speakers a boost without the need for power source. Check out this wide-armed Groovi Monster, for example, or this retro gramophone-style alternative.
5. Make your cooking a little easier
There are a lot of options available for the keen chef/3D printing enthusiast to make their kitchen work a little easier. For instance, this measuring cube is a simple but brilliant way to make sure you'll never mess up the quantities of your ingredients again. Each side holds a different amount - and you can download designs that measure in either metric or cups. And while you're making tools for this kitchen, why not add other useful projects such as a 3D-printed garlic press or egg separator?