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A Big Prediction For 3D Printing in 2015

Bet your holiday was more fun than mine. I spent most of it moving.

In the process of moving all that junk from point A to point B, I went through a lot of stuff I’ve saved over my 25 years in business. Early in my career I worked for Xerox selling copiers to commercial printers. One of the artifacts I saved from those days is a manual that taught us copier reps how to sell “print on demand” solutions in commercial print environments.

I sat there reading my notes, reliving the past (Need a Visual? Think Chevy Chase in the attic scene in Christmas vacation). I was again amazed by how much has changed…and how fast. But, I was also reminded of how much 3D printing today is reminiscent of 2D printing back in the early 90’s.

Those who ignore history cannot benefit from its lessons.

When Inside3DP asked me for my predictions for 3D printing in 2015, I was tempted to build on my previous assertion that 2015 would be 3D printing’s year of workflow. I still believe it will, but my little trip down memory lane reminded me of other opportunities.

With that in mind, here are some additional predictions:

Production Will Get Faster

With 2D players like HP, Ricoh, Epson and others joining the fray there will be a new emphasis on speed. They’ll focus first on the production market where fixed costs can be amortized over lots of volume.

Quality Will Be Better

The pace of innovation today is staggering. Startups are driving some of it. Software As-a-Service, crowdfunding, and other tools help level the playing field. But big manufacturers innovate as well and some of that is sales-driven.

Back in the day, we copier reps made our living by upgrading our customers’ equipment every 2-3 years. To do that you needed a healthy pipeline of new product. Big companies with aggressive sales teams (like those mentioned above) put pressure on R&D to continually deliver new products, allowing them to hit their goals and make their bonuses.

How does any of this impact quality? At least with 2D printing, many of those early iterations were focused on improving quality of output. Speed was secondary.

Costs Will Come Down

Forget about the 3D printers themselves for a moment. There is still so much inefficiency in the overall end-to-end process. Those costs are low-hanging fruit and removing or reducing them is something the industry can accomplish in the here and now.

Customization and Personalization Will Play a Bigger Role

I’ve gone on record with my thoughts on customization and personalization. Digital technology makes it possible, but the user experience has to be there too. As the software to support customization gets better, more people will adopt. Based on the conversations we’re having, a lot of that ground work could be accomplished in the next year.

Cottage Industry Players Will Be Marginalized

Sometimes I wonder if certain companies in 3D printing want it to remain a small, cottage industry. It’s possible to achieve ridiculously high margins and limit access when there are only a few names on the board. But the genie is out of the bottle. Big companies and startups alike are focused on mainstreaming 3D printing on a grand scale. Those who resist that effort will be marginalized. If you’re not part of the steam roller, you’re part of the pavement.

2014 was a break-out year for 3D printing. As I sit here writing this article from the floor at CES, it seems likely that 2015 will be even bigger. Exciting times indeed.

John is a noted thought leader on 3D printing. His articles have been published on TechCrunch, Futurism, 3DPrint.com, QZ.com, TechFaster and Inside3DP, among others. John has been profiled in many leading business publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur and has spoken at many industry events, including the Shop.org Digital Summit, RAPID and the Inside 3D Printing Conference, among others.

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