Hello from #CES2014! I just got to the show and have’t made it any further than the press room. Lots of follow up to be done before I hit the floor, but later today I will be walking the 3D Printing TechZone and talking to the over 30 vendors with products on display. Stay tuned!
Foxconn CEO, Terry Gou recently said that “3D printing is a gimmick.” Yes, that Foxconn – the world’s biggest mass manufacturer of electronic gadgets like smartphones and tablets. He went on to say that 3D printing “did not mean the advent of a third industrial revolution,” alluding to a 2012 Economist article about 3D printing and how it could reinvent manufacturing.
Even though Foxconn has been using 3D printing for nearly 30 years, Gou was not optimistic about the technology’s future, arguing it was unsuitable for mass production and did not have any real commercial value.
Is it at all surprising that Foxconn’s boss would downplay a technology which clearly has its sights set on mass manufacturing?
Mr. Gou said that while 3D printing might be able to manufacture a phone’s shell, it could not manufacture (or assemble) all of the phone’s inner-workings. While this is true, 3D printers are capable of printing some electronics, and breakthroughs in this area are likely to continue. According to the article, Gou also said that 3D printers were currently incapable of printing leather, leading to unsustainable products which could not be mass produced. Not exactly sure what was meant there, but let’s chalk it up to a translation error. Taken literally, it’s a bit bizarre.
For a moment let’s downplay Mr. Gou’s predictions. What if he’s wrong and 3D printing (digital manufacturing) does deliver on its potential? What if you could offer a huge number of products at nearly any location, with little or no supply chain cost? No commitment to mass production, no packaging, no logistics, no scrap, and no waste. Sounds great, but what about all the other important stuff like product quality, speed to market, and perhaps most importantly, the price of the product itself?
We’ve been evangelizing 3D printing to the traditional printing community for nearly a year now. Our stance is that 3D printing really is a lot like 2D printing. Files get created, files are submitted to print devices, prints are made, prints are finished and finally, handed off to the consumer. Certainly the file, printer, substrates and finishing methods are different, but not that much different. Along the way, our stance has been ignored and opposed, but now may finally be being accepted as self evident. Why? We just received an email newsletter from the organizers of PRINT 13, and there in the right sidebar is a conference session entitled, “3D Printing for the Commercial Printer.”
The summary describes 3D printing and goes on to say that, “Some believe that commercial printers, particularly the small printer with a physical storefront, is uniquely positioned to serve the potential new market for custom printed “things” — from promotional item and replacement parts to miniature versions of people! Learn how 3D printing just might be the next big thing in your print shop.”
While we certainly believe 3D printing is a huge opportunity for traditional printers, we don’t believe it’s limited to quick print shops. 3D printing is impacting nearly every manufacturing market from promotional products, toys, tools, automotive parts, and gadgets, to fashion, healthcare, art, and even the military. If you’re a printer with customers in any of those markets (or many more) you have an opportunity with 3D printing. And, it’s not just for “prototyping” any longer. Right now, roughly 30% of everything 3D printed is being consumed as product. By 2020, the Economist predicts that 80% will be used as finished product.
The parallels to digital printing are profound. Back in the early 90’s many in the industry said that digital printing was great for copy shops, but really didn’t have a place in commercial print. Today it’s not uncommon for commercial printers to generate 30% of their revenue or more from digital printing. In this case, history has a high likelihood of repeating itself. Those who educate themselves now, and adopt relatively quickly stand a much better chance of success with 3D printing. And in this case, printers won’t just be competing against desktop users and each other. They’ll be competing against retailers seeking to flatten their supply chains by manufacturing products on demand. Associating your brand with 3D printing now will help you stand out in a sea of 3D printing providers later.
Traditional printing companies have an opportunity to participate in the growing 3D print market and 3D4Printers.com is dedicated to helping printers make the leap. Want to learn more about 3D printing and how to add the capability at your company? CONTACT US today.
While we’ve been off focusing on other initiatives, others have taken up the mantle that 3D printing has a lot in common with 2D printing. Check out this recent article that suggests much of the recent anxiety around 3D printing stems from lessons learned in traditional, 2D printing. For us, it’s further validation that 2D printers are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t keep a very close eye on 3D printing. Further, 3D printing needs more people from a traditional printing background.
The industry is sorting out many of the same challenges traditional printers have faced. From counterfeit, copyright, and censorship, which are mentioned in the article, to more pragmatic concerns like pre-flight and finishing, the 3D printing industry now, reminds us a lot of the digital printing industry in the early 1990’s. Others who lived through that technology evolution could bring a lot of experience to what promises to be the next industrial revolution – 3D printing.
Many in the industry consider prototypes the primary or, “killer” application for 3D printing. Why? Because new products are typically designed using 3D software, they’re also “print ready,” making them low hanging fruit for anyone with a 3D printer. But because of 3D printing, more prototypes are also “production ready.” The prototype is the product! This allows people to disrupt the traditional product innovation process, making 3D printing a fast track to innovation.
Industry insider and MakerBot CEO, Bre Pettis certainly drinks the kool-aid. He says,
“Makerbot is an innovation company.” We innovate ourselves to empower other people to innovate. Our mission is to jumpstart the next industrial revolution.”
How exactly does 3D printing help people innovate? By flattening process and removing upfront cost.
There’s a lot of debate right now about where we’ll all be printing in 3D. One one hand, you have those who believe we’ll 3D print from home. On the other you have those who predict we’ll order prints from websites or a local 3D print shop.
Now we’re asking you…do you think we’ll all have 3D printers or will we pay someone else to print our 3D objects?
The 3D print-for-pay market is set to explode. Recent advancements in 3D printing, fueled in part by investment from crowdfunding initiatives, are creating a demand for 3D printed objects. Not only are consumers purchasing 3D desktop printers for home use, they’re paying others to print on their behalf, locally at 3D print shops, and online via web-to-print (W2P) sites. An entire industry is being developed to support this demand, creating opportunities from creation to delivery. I’m so bullish on this market that I recently created a blog to cover it and promote its growth.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to partner with the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business and guest lecture a group of undergraduate students. We tasked an Internet Marketing class with developing niche websites that would sell printed products to consumers. The class broke into groups, developed their pitches and shared with the group. We voted and the group elected to move forward with a site that would allow consumers to design and order business card-sized mini resumes. We determined what platform we would sell on, how we would market the site, and how we would produce our product. All we needed was financing.
Crowdfunding has the potential to remove the financial barrier – especially for those in the 3D printing business. Crowdfunding projects can be created quickly and inexpensively, often requiring little more than a working prototype and a kick-ass video. Those economics get even better when your prototype IS your product, as is the case with items printed on demand, in 3D. Several 3D printing projects have already successfully funded on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Even though most of these are related to 3D hardware and software, they’ve paved the way by creating a lot of buzz and educating potential backers about the technology.
Which leads to a thought…maybe there’s a formula here for creating new 3D web-to-print sites?
CROWD + 3D PRINT APPS = NICHE WEBSITE IDEA FACTORY
We recently shared our take on why 2D is like 3D printing. While we conceded that the devices themselves are different, we made the argument that the process of printing in two or three dimensions is essentially the same:
File is created >> File is sent to print device >>
File is printed >> Item is finished (bindery/decoration)
We also made the point that like 2D printing, the 3D printing market will eventually service customers at home (via desktop printers), online (via web-to-print) and at retail (via 3D print shops.) The retail channel has yet to be developed and we think this represents a huge opportunity for traditional printers, print franchises, big box office supply stores, and shipping companies like FedEx and UPS.
One of the objections raised by some in these markets is that the substrates and consumables used in 3D are too dissimilar from those used in traditional printing.
Everybody remember the Formlabs Form 1? It’s the desktop 3D printer that raised nearly $3 million a couple of months ago on Kickstarter. Part of its allure was the quality of output it could produce, rivaling the output of printers costing $30,000 to a million or more. According to the team’s project page on Kickstarter:
“Our reason for starting this project is simple: there are no low-cost 3D printers that meet the quality standards of the professional designer. As researchers at the MIT Media Lab, we were lucky to experience the best and most expensive fabrication equipment in the world. But, we became frustrated by the fact that all the professional-quality 3D printers were ridiculously expensive (read: tens of thousands of dollars) and were so complex to use. In 2011, we decided to build a solution to this problem ourselves, and we are now ready to share it with the world.”
Now it turns out that Formlabs may have violated a patent belonging to 3D Systems, one of the companies that makes those expensive, professional-quality 3D printers. Clearly 3D Systems was not happy and yesterday announced that they’ve filed a patent infringement suit against Formlabs and Kickstarter.