An new article appearing on Slashdot, and verified on Wired.com states that 3D printer manufacturer, Stratasys, is revoking the lease and repossessing the printer belonging to Cody Wilson. In case you didn’t know, he’s the guy behind the Defense Distributed project to 3D print a gun. According to New Scientist, Stratasys cited his lack of a federal firearms manufacturing license as their reason, adding that they don’t knowingly allow their printers to be used for illegal purposes.
Some have tried to make the connection that this is no different than a copier company repossessing their device when someone is caught counterfeiting. That would be a valid argument except it’s not illegal in the USA to make your own firearm. A manufacturing license is only required if you plan to sell or distribute firearms. Mr. Wilson’s project never intended to manufacture firearms for sale or distribution, only for personal use.
As printers we have to comply with many laws including copyright and counterfeit, but we live in interesting times when a device can be repossessed by the lessor simply because they object to the content it is legally being used to produce. We’re guessing this will end up in court, and the outcome could have implications to anyone leasing their equipment.
Formlabs posted this project to Kickstarter yesterday with the hopes of of securing $100K in funding. In less than two days it has already received over $800,000 from more than 550 backers. With 28 days to go, this project may set a record. Their device, the Form 1 Professional 3D printer ups the quality of desktop 3D printing significantly, with a resolution similar to professional systems costing $30,000 to upwards of $1 million.
It took years for digital printing to reach a quality comparable to offset, in large part because few companies were innovating in that space. Crowdfunding changes the game significantly, allowing multiple small companies to innovate and bring their products to market with unmatched speed. With quality improving so rapidly, one has to wonder how long it will be before they reach production speed. What took companies like Xerox, HP and Canon years to accomplish, is happening now, in this space, in mere months.
For more information check out this post from TechCrunch.
Do you work with a brand that has a well known mascot? Here is a great application for 3D printing. Cubify.com is working with Google’s Android team to produce personalized Android figurines. The site allows you to fully customize your Android with 3D accessories and 2D stamps, then order a 3D printed version of your creation. Can you imagine how many passionate brand advocates would purchase one of these for their desk or office?
Since this site works on behalf of the printing industry we should also note that Cubify.com is a consumer-oriented, web-to-print site that has already produced THOUSANDS of 3D products, on demand. Sound familiar?
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Within a week two different manufacturers of 3D printers announced they will open retail locations where customers can see their products in action. First, MakerBot announced it would open its first retail location in New York City in conjunction with the launch of its newest product – the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D printer. Then Deezmaker, another maker of desktop 3D printers announced it would open its first retail location in Pasadena, California.
While both manufacturers have cited retail stores as a great way to demo (and sell) their products, its almost a given that they will also sell products manufactured on their devices. So, it’s likely that the first 3D print shops have just opened for business.
What could this mean for the 2D printing industry? For traditional printers this could be a huge opportunity to expand into a new and growing market. While the mechanics of 3D printing are certainly different than digital printing, the process is essentially the same. A file comes in and a product goes out. Who better to manage that workflow than a printing company? There will be a learning curve, but as the technology improves and processes are reduced to practice, 3D printing could provide traditional printers with access to a whole new market, injecting life into an industry that’s seen its share of decay over the last few years. We think that’s an opportunity worth pursuing.
Why should those of us in the printing industry be interested in 3D printing (or replicating, manufacturing, etc?) First, the process for printing in 3D almost the same as 2D. File comes in, file gets submitted to the machine, product is manufactured, product is finished, product is fulfilled. Granted, its a different kind of input (CAD vs. page layout), different kind of machine, and different finishing processes…but the same was true for digital vs. offset printing.
Regarding the markets and applications, right now the main opportunities are probably in Engineering and Product Support, which was also the case for 2D large format digital until the quality was good enough for use in marketing and other applications. Early 2D digital innovators sold digital blueprints, but also ran a lot of spec books and product support documentation for their clients. Their clients were also among the first users of digital color – willing to pay over $1 per page in the early 1990’s.
Further, you might ask how developing a relationship with Engineering / Product Support could advance your overall revenue and presence in an account? Do they have other “traditional” applications that you could support (How-to Guides, Installation Instructions, etc.) Could 3D printing help you get them? Worst case, you’ll separate yourself from competition. Also, Engineering typically woks pretty closely with marketing and other departments to make sure products are launched on time. Could this help you cross-sell?
I’d also add that 3D printing is expected to be a $5.2 billion industry by 2020. People are already building 3D web-to-print (or whatever verb you’d like to insert here) portals. They’re marketing them to B2B and B2C clients. Some have already produced thousands of projects for their online customers. At some point, people may use 3D printing like a fax service, scanning an object in one place, and printing it in another. Who better to manage distributed “printing” than printers who already have the networks, space, location, talent, etc?
While 3D printing is very young, its definitely disruptive technology. You can either adapt or resist, but I don’t think you can ignore it. Digital technology has gutted print in too many places (newspapers, magazines, books, catalogs, direct mail, etc.) already.