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.