This week Deloitte University Press announced the launch of a massive open online course (MOOC) on the business implications of additive manufacturing (AM). Entitled, “3D Opportunity: The Course on Additive Manufacturing for Business Leaders,” it is the first course of its kind to be offered by a large professional services firm and is designed to help educate the market on the business drivers behind additive manufacturing/3D printing.
3D opportunity: Deloitte’s MOOC on additive manufacturing (3D Printing) for business
Is 3D printing truly the miracle it’s purported to be?
That’s a question I’ve asked myself numerous times, especially when I see yet another announcement from a hardware or software vendor or service provider that is often hype and little else. A lot of companies (and their marketing/PR/communications engines) count on the fact that just about anything that states or implies “3D printing” is going to automatically generate “a buzz” of notoriety, and maybe even some venture capital.
On one hand, yes, 3D printing has shown great promise and results. But, on the other, it’s largely wait and see.
Many have been lured into the promise of 3D printing with sensationalistic demonstrations as shown in the following video.
During the course of a year I get the opportunity to attend several events and meet a lot of new people involved with various aspects of design, engineering, and manufacturing. This week I attended an event called “3D Printing Day @ CSU.” Held on the campus of Colorado State University, it showcased the Idea-2-Product Laboratory, the brainchild of its director, and our good friend, Dr. David Prawel. It was a combination seminar series and tours of the Lab where a number of 3D printers were demonstrated.
One of the most interesting and compelling seminar talks was given by Easton LaChappelle, a 17-year-old from Mancos, CO who graduated from high school last month. His talk was on his experience with 3D printing, prosthetics, and telerobotics
An organization that we know quite well, Wohlers Associates, Inc., recently released the Wohlers Report 2014, the company’s annual detailed analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide. According to the Report, in 2014, interest in 3D printing reached an unprecedented level and exceeded the $3 billion milestone. The phenomenal attention to AM began in 2012, and it was sudden. As Greg Morris of GE Aviation said, “It was like someone flipped a switch.” Governments, major corporations, investors, and the mainstream media developed an insatiable appetite for additive manufacturing, and it occurred quickly.
Wohlers Report 2014
As it has from the beginning, Wohlers Report 2014 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, R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia, industry, and summarizes the worldwide state of the industry. This edition is the report’s 19th consecutive year of publication.
Wohlers Associates believes the industry will continue strong growth over the next several years. It will be fueled by sales of under $5,000 “personal” 3D printers, as well as the expanded use of the technology for the production of parts, especially metal, that go into final products. “The industry is experiencing change that we have not seen in 20+ years of tracking it,” stated Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at the company and one of two principal authors of the new report. He added, “What’s most exciting is that we have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.”
We’ve all witnessed the explosive growth of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing over the past several years. The possibilities for AM seem limitless and literally grow by the day, for mechanical design and now architecture. Sure, custom printing iPhone cases and jewelry are one thing, but the capabilities of 3D printing have grown so much, in fact, they’re now as big as a house.
The 3D Print Canal House is an exhibition, research, and building site for 3D Printing Architecture. This is a unique project where an international team of partners collaborates in “research & doing” linking science, design, construction and community, by 3D printing a house at an exposition site in the heart of Amsterdam.
It’s not too often that a new material with incredible physical and electrical characteristics comes along, much less a process for turning it into products with endless possibilities. Well, that very thing happened recently when Lomiko Metals and Graphene Laboratories launched Graphene 3D Labs.
The company was formed primarily to focus on developing high-performance graphene-enhanced materials for 3D printing.
New developments in 3D printing will allow products with different components such as printed electronic circuits, sensors or batteries to be manufactured. High-quality graphite is a base material for producing graphene, and Lomiko will provide graphite to Graphene 3D Labs as the exclusive supplier to Graphene 3D Labs
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.