In today’s world we live in an age of disruption with every week seemingly presenting a cool new technology, platform or game changing strategy.
Pre-2009 3D printing was seen to be one of these new fancy consumer technologies. Over ten years later the trend has started to take on a new form as the focus is now on software designed bespoke solutions in manufacturing and healthcare rather than a consumer gadget.
According to 3DPrint magazine “CES (an annual technology conference) is a barometer for what technologies we consumers should expect to see, use, and covet in the coming years. And as I explored this year’s show, I feared that 2001 A Space Odyssey was the inspiration for a lot of smart home technology.” In the years past 3D printing has suffered a consistent downtrend with exhibitors shifting away from consumer focus to more commercially led printers.
How did the rise and fall of 3D printing come about?
The creation of Makerbot in 09′ kick-started the initial wave of interest in consumer 3D printing. Lead by Adam Mayer, Zach Smith and Bre Petis Makerbot won features in Harvard Business Review, CNN and the economist. Almost immediately following these features slew of new challengers joined the fray with their own entry level 3D printing machines.
Towards the middle of the decade 3D printing began to spread from pop culture into mainstream technology circles. However, despite the notable uptick in exposure to the the end user base, consumer focused 3D printers failed to grow.
One of the sector’s leaders, 3D systems, go to market strategy was arguably the breaking point for the trend. Considering the strength of their strategy, degree of thought behind their product lines and the flair in their management team (Will.I.Am was their chief creative officer) – if anyone was to succeed, they would be the ones to do so. However, when they “opened the kimono” the sight was rather underwhelming. Whilst the printers were selling, they were selling to the wrong customers and with inadequate volumes.
Looking back on the past decade, it has become clear that although 3D printing certainly deserves a spot among the future technologies of our society, it’s role was perhaps slightly misplaced. Despite the leaps companies have made in functionality and on pricing, the printing process can still take upwards of five days. This means that although it may seem initially appealing to print those new pair of running trainers, amazon can do it better and at five times the speed.
So with the benefit of hindsight I can safely say that a consumer may want to hold out on that desktop 3D printer and maybe put those savings towards a new holiday? For our manufacturing clients however they remain useful for idea development and prototyping especially with the development of new metal additive products. 3D printing keeps you agile with on demand prototyping and manufacturing services.
Over the next decade I expect the 3D printing trend to take a on a new form, with small-mid size manufacturing companies at the front and center. I would even go as far as to say that with the “bubble” having burst companies will refine their target end users accordingly and we will start to see the true value add of the technology.
CES is the annual barometer for what technologies we consumers should expect to see, use, and covet in the coming years. And as I explored this year’s show, I feared that 2001 A Space Odyssey was the inspiration for a lot of smart home technology.