For as long as I can remember, HP has produced an incredible range of products for science, engineering, and consumer customers. More recently the company has had a huge presence in computers and 2D printers.
Now, HP has vision for 3D printing for manufacturing parts on a relatively economical machine it calls the Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printer. The company claims these parts will have similar quality and characteristics as injection-molded parts, and will print at speeds that HP claims to be 10x compared to similar competing technologies. More about these claims to follow.
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.
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.