The 3D printing process and the notion of a 3D printer in every home has received a lot of attention the past few years, and sales of relatively low cost 3D printers have skyrocketed. That is, until recently. According to the Wohlers Report, sales of 3D printers started to decline last year and have continued to accelerate downward this year.
But why, for a process and capability that was supposed to be ubiquitous and necessary for every home? The machines may be relatively inexpensive, but how many parts are you truly going to want to ultimately design and produce? Then there are material, size/volume, and physical characteristic, and quality limitations. The machines can also be fickle to set up and maintain. I suspect that after an initial period of excitement and promise, a lot of early-purchase 3D printers are now sitting idle and collecting dust.
It brings to mind people who have the joy and burden of owning multiple homes. A second home may be nice, but that ends up being the only place you end up going. Most acquaintances that I have known dealing with this issue inevitably as themselves, “Why own when you can rent.” I’m starting to see this same mindset enter into the psyches of early purchasers of 3D printers.
That mindset has produced a possible opportunity for easily “renting” a 3D printer at a location as close as your local Staples or UPS store.
A few months ago, ago, office supply retail giant, Staples, announced that they had opened their first 3D printing “Experience Centre” in the Netherlands. Staples selected Mcor’s paper-based Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL) 3D printing technology, exclusively for this service, citing Mcor’s relative low cost and color capability.
This announcement followed Staples’ announcement last November that they were launching “Easy 3D,” an online and in-store 3D printing service. Together, these two 3D printing endeavors will (hopefully) fulfill Staples’ goal to provide comprehensive 3D printing services for its customers.
3D Printing at Staples in the Netherlands
Last week, Stratasys announced that it had been selected by The UPS Store to provide its 3D printing systems to The UPS Store as part of a test program. This service will enable UPS Store customers to have their 3D design 3D printed on-site.
The UPS Store is installing Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D Printers in six test locations, beginning in San Diego. The test is a collaborative effort by Stratasys and The UPS Store to make 3D printing more accessible as awareness of the technology and its capabilities grow. Following the test launch, retail customers will be able to bring CAD files to participating UPS Store locations and have their 3D design printed.
The UPS Store 3D Printing Experience
How well trained 3D printing technicians will be at Staples and UPS stores and how they will resolve problematic issues that are bound to come up remains to be seen. But, you’ve got to start somewhere . . .
So, will fans and proponents of 3D printing quit buying and start renting? If the successes of other online 3D printing “rental” services, such as RedEye, Shapeways, and i.Materialise are any indication, then there just might be a place for “walk-up” 3D printing at Staples and UPS stores.
MakerBot, once the progeny and a proponent of the open source hardware/software movement is being acquired by Stratasys for about $403 million. Not bad for a company whose origins are the open-source community.
I use open source and MakerBot in the same sentence rather loosely because MakerBot became pretty closed and proprietary not all that long after its inception in 2009. It certainly began with an open-source design based on the RepRap Project, but effectively became a “closed” system with the advent of the Replicator 2 in September 2012. At that time, the company said it “will not share the way the physical machine is designed or our GUI.” This sudden departure from its previous open-source embrace and no longer willing to share with the community that made MakerBot possible in the first place was met with criticism in many circles. To be fair, though, MakerBot has created several products and services beyond its flagship 3D printer, which was definitely an improvement over its base design.
Officially, this deal is being called a merger and Stratasys intends for MakerBot to operate as a separate subsidiary, preserving its existing brand, management, and the good faith it has with its users and partners.
If you have never seen a MakerBot Replicator 2 in action, check out the following video:
For its part, (and until now) Stratasys had repeatedly denied any interest in the 3D printer (under $5000) market and would not pursue it, because their historical customer has been industrial, not the hobbyist or prosumer. Things change, though, and with this transaction, Stratasys has certainly changed its tune. A customer is a customer, and with the additive manufacturing/3D printing market consolidating, Stratasys didn’t want to miss out on an acquisition opportunity that was probably being explored by competitors, possibly including 3D Systems or HP.
This merger is an especially good opportunity for MakerBot to take advantage of Stratasys’ technologies that could boost part resolution, quality, and build material choices. To reinforce this possibility, the following statement was part of the press announcement: “Upon completion of the merger, Stratasys and MakerBot will jointly develop and implement strategies for building on their complementary strengths, intellectual property and technical know-how, and other unique assets and capabilities.” However, whether this actually happens remains to be seen, as companies are usually very cautious about possibly cannibalizing existing products when new assets are acquired.
Don’t get me wrong, MakerBot’s principals stand to make a lot of money off of this deal, and there is nothing wrong with that. My issue comes from the fact that few will truly benefit from this transaction that in reality was the work of many in the open-source community. Business is business, I guess. Who says there’s no money to be made in open-source technologies? Not me, not anymore.
A company we have come to know quite well, Wohlers Associates, Inc., has announced the release of the Wohlers Report 2013, the company’s annual detailed analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide. Among many things, the report reveals troubling trends that suggest the U.S. may be losing its competitive advantage in the AM industry.
To at least maintain a competitive advantage in manufacturing, the White House launched the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) last year with the support of several agencies, including the Department of Defense. This initiative seeks to accelerate the position of the U.S. in the development and use of AM technology. “It will not be easy, given what organizations in China and other regions of the world have planned,” said Terry Wohlers, a principal author of the report and president of Wohlers Associates.
As it has from the beginning, Wohlers Report 2013 covers virtually every aspect of additive manufacturing, including its history, applications, underlying technologies, processes, manufacturers, and materials. It documents significant developments that have occurred in the past year, covers R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia, industry, and summarizes the worldwide state of the industry. This edition is the report’s 18th consecutive year of publication.
A 3-D Printed World: Terry Wohlers at TEDxTraverseCity
According to the new report, 38% of all industrial AM installations are in the U.S. Japan is second with 9.7%, followed by Germany with 9.4% and China with 8.7%. Sixteen companies in Europe, seven in China, five in the U.S., and two in Japan now manufacture and sell professional-grade, industrial additive manufacturing systems. “This is a dramatic change from a decade ago, when the mix was ten in the U.S., seven in Europe, seven in Japan, and three in China,” said Tim Caffrey, a principal author of the new report and associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.
Wohlers Report 2013 provides an in-depth look at market forces and competitive pressures, as well as growth of the industry. Revenues from all additive manufacturing (AM) products and services worldwide were $2.204 billion in 2012. This is up 28.6% (CAGR) from 2011. Approximately 28.3% of the $2.204 billion is tied to the production of parts for final products, rather than models, prototypes, patterns, and other types of parts.
The Wohlers Report is the most thorough and comprehensive report of its kind. It is packed with up-to-date and practical information that includes charts and graphs, tables, photographs, and illustrations. The annual study is priced at US$495, and was produced with support from 74 service providers, 31 system manufacturers, and the contributions of 69 co-authors from around the world.
I’ve known Terry Wohlers for many years, and in my mind, he continues to the pulse checker and voice for the AM and 3D printing industries. I also highly recommend the Wohlers Report for its breadth, depth, and insights as the source of accurate and objective information about the ever-evolving world of AM.
On a weekly basis I review hundreds of press releases relating to (more or less) CAD, CAM, CAE, and related software and hardware products. With most of them it is immediately apparent whether they merit publication, are overt sales pitches, or new rehashes of old news. Not always, but often, my interest gets sparked by the headline, such as, 3D Printing Inspires New Working Style in CAD/CAM Software Industry. Interesting stuff, right? The headline was pretty catchy, although it didn’t mention a specific company name. In spite of that, I read through the press release once, twice, three times, and still had trouble comprehending what was trying to be said.
Well, the company is Chinese software developer, ZWSOFT, and what they are trying to get across is the new Print3D function in ZW3D 2013 for leveraging 3D printing. The company doesn’t tell you how to do it and the 3D printing capability isn’t specifically mentioned in its 56-page “What’s New in ZW3D 2013” document. In fact, if this press release had not come out, there is no way I (or prospective customers) would even know it’s there. I tend to think it’s buried in some obscure place that will really take some digging to find.
3D printing is mentioned in online product literature under Reverse Engineering in the following context (and accompanying graphic):
Work with STL, point cloud, and scan data to build surfaces and 3D models
Prepare models for CNC machining by refining meshes, building surfaces, and repairing gaps
Support 3D printers
I’m no marketing guy, but if you’re going to push a new capability, wouldn’t you give it little more prominence?
I’ll download a trial version of ZW3D 2013 and see what and where the 3D printing capabilities really are.
Beyond that, the only reference I could find with regard to ZW3D’s 3D printing ability was an event last year when personal manufacturer Ponoko teamed up with ZW3D and 3D model library GrabCAD to 3D print the winners of its Holiday Design Challenge.
So another MCAD company enters the market with this year’s “must have” capability – 3D printing – which is fine. I guess the more, the merrier. What I more interesting is a rumor I’ve heard from more than one source that another Chinese company may soon market a 3D printer in the $300-$500 range and PLA and/or ABS consumables for $10-$20 a spool.
While it is possible, I still maintain that 3D printing isn’t suited for everything or everybody. While there have been some impressive results, many of the parts I have seen produced on the so-called “low end” machines are analogous to dot matrix output when 2D printers came on the market. Like many technologies, just because “everybody’s doin’ it,” doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody should be doing it.
3D printing. Do you love it, hate it, skeptical, convinced, or still deciding? We are, too. There’s no doubt that 3D printing is diverse technology with a lot of potential, but has that potential been realized, or is it still a lot of hype and wishful thinking? Yes, to all of the above.
One of the more interesting, “real” examples of 3D printing we’ve come across is a simple multi-material keyboard.
Designer Arnon Gratch of Stratasys recently created a mechanically sound, fully functioning keyboard using rigid and flexible materials on the Objet Connex500. Typically, the keys and supporting structures need to be assembled into the board, however, the multi-material Connex technology allowed Grach to print the complete keyboard in one print run.
Using Objet’s simultaneous multi-material jetting technology, the Objet Connex500 can print models made of up to 14 different materials, in a single print job. This capability is effective for highlighting varying material components in complex or assembled products for physical modeling.
The range of materials that can be used with the Connex500 numbers over 100.
While this is an impressive demonstration of the 3D printing technology, especially using multi-materials, the produced part doesn’t exactly have a finish I would call commercial, and the keys seem a little slow to return to their original position. That said, though, it does have definite possibilities.
Spring is typically when a lot new 3D printing technology is showcased, and this year is no exception with two exhibitions coming soon — Inside 3D Printing and SME’s RAPID 2013. Periodically, over the next several weeks, we’ll report on the hype, reality, and general state of 3D printing. Admittedly, it’s come a long way, but just as importantly, still has a long way to go for fulfilling its promise of custom, unbridled manufacturing for the masses.
Wohlers Associates just published Wohlers Report 2012, an in-depth analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide. This new edition marks the 17th consecutive year of its publication. I can attest that the Report is the most thorough and comprehensive document of its kind.
Wohlers Report 2012 covers all aspects of additive manufacturing, including its history, applications, processes, manufacturers, and materials. It documents pertinent developments in the past year, covers R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia, and industry, and summarizes the state of the industry in countries around the world. It also tracks the extraordinary growth of personal 3D printers—machines priced under $5,000, with the majority in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.
The information is used to track industry growth, provide views and perspective, uncover trends, and offer insight into the future of additive manufacturing. “The 2012 edition is the most ambitious effort in the report’s history,” said Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates and a principal author of the new report. Major new parts on applications, materials and processes, and front- and back-end considerations were added. The final part of the report concludes withtrends that are expected to shape the future of the technology and industry.
Additive manufacturing is the process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies. Additive manufacturing is used to build physical models, prototypes, patterns, tooling components, and production parts in plastic, metal, and composite materials. AM systems use thin, horizontal cross sections from computer-aided design (CAD) models, 3D-scanning systems, medical scanners, and video games to produce parts that can be difficult or impossible to produce any other way.
The report sells for $495 worldwide and is available in PDF form. The report’s table of contents, as well as additional information on the market and industry, are available at wohlersassociates.com.
I’ve known Terry Wohlers for many years and consider Wohlers Report THE source of timely and comprehensive information for additive manufacturing. I don’t recommend many books, but highly recommend this one for anyone who wants to get accurate in-depth information on AM.
The 3D printing merger/acquisition train rolls on with Stratasys and Objet coming together as one. This is a biggie for the 3D production sector because the combined company could be valued at as much as $1.4 Billion.
This is a good move for each of the companies because the technologies and markets for the respective companies are different. Pubicly traded Stratasys is a leading manufacturer of 3D printers and production systems for prototyping and manufacturing applications, whereas privately held Objet Ltd. is a leading manufacturer of 3D printers for rapid prototyping.
The transaction will position the combined company as the leader within the high-growth 3D printing and direct digital manufacturing industry.
The combined company will retain the Stratasys name and operate under the name
Stratasys Ltd., and will have dual headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and Rehovot, Israel, the locations of Stratasys’ and Objet’s current headquarters,respectively.
Some of the strategic and financial benefits of the transaction will include:
– Expanded product (machine and material) portfolio
– Expanded sales and marketing reach
– Enhanced functional capabilities and scale
– Enhanced leadership and management team
– Strengthened financial performance
– Attractive long-term operating models
So, what’s not to like about this merger? For one, industry consolidation, while a fact of life, is not always a good thing with fewer choices and competitors. At the rate things are going, we may eventually be down to Stratasys and 3D Systems as about the only major players standing. Also, while the CEOs of both companies seem pleased with the announcment, corporate cultures don’t always merge quite so smoothly and can tend to clash.
However, that said, this is a big deal, and it will be interesting to see how this deal influences the rest of the 3D printing/rapid prototyping/rapid manufacturing industry.
The past couple of years we’ve been hearing that anyone can be a creative genius by using a variety of tools ranging from CAD products to rapid prototyping machines. While most people have the capacity to be creative in a certain capacity, this heady claim fails to take in to consideration that not everyone might be truly creative when it comes to creating something of real value in 3D – for either themselves or others. In other words, even with the best tools in the world, there is no guarantee that everyone will be able to create things that anybody else would really want.
The current popularity of the DIY movement has helped the “creativity for everyone” movement, but I think back 20+ years ago when another “revolution” took place in desktop publishing. Prior to desktop publishing for all, printed documents for most home computer users consisted of Courier, Helvetica, and maybe Times Roman fonts on dot matrix printers. With the introduction of Encapsulated Postscript (EPS) and more capable printers, the font possibilities were endless. So endless, in fact, that many early EPS documents with their myriad fonts looked more like ransom notes than business documents. It took a while, but eventually most people got that more fonts is not necessarily better for printed communication. I’m afraid the same thing is happening with 3D printing for visual and tactile communication, but should get more realistic and sound with time and more than just silly toys.
As an industrial designer, over the years I have critiqued designs and reviewed portfolios of ID students at design schools and conferences. The most prominent trend I’ve seen over the past several years is that students have a ton of digital tools at their disposal, but they are concentrating too much attention on the tools themselves and presentation, and not enough on the design problem they are trying to solve. Closely related to this is the fact that while a lot of pretty product designs are being created, relatively few can be manufactured economically, if at all.
When I look way back to my own creative beginnings, as a child I loved to draw on paper and Etch-A-Sketch in 2D and build things in 3D with Legos, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and wood with nails. Did I create anything of real value that appealed to anyone but myself? Honestly, no, but it did spark a an interest in a formal education in design and engineering, as well as fostering a lifelong interest and appreciation for good design.
With the advent of easier to use and affordable (a lot even free) 3D software and hardware, will creativity proliferate? Certainly it will to an extent, but let’s be realistic on the quality and value of the vast majority of the things produced. While there is some reality to the thought that everyone can be creative and produce things in 3D, there is also a good deal of myth with regard to what is actually being created. However, new creative hands-on skills are being learned and put into practice, which is a good thing.
I applaud the efforts that some of the 3D software and hardware vendors have put forth in getting their technologies into the hands of a new type of user. I would just caution the vendors from overselling the promise of creativity for everyone that will result in stunning designs. A small percentage of the designs might have value, but as with products coming out of the professional community, many probably won’t.
Don’t get me wrong, along with DIY, I think it’s a great movement and should be strongly encouraged, we just need to sort out myth from reality when it comes to creating things in 3D.
Since this is such an interesting, strong movement, I’ll come back to this topic many times in the future, especially as I check out a number of the 3D software and hardware products and services for myself. Let’s get creative!