Hardware · Healthcare

What is the real market for 3D Printers?

Katie Pang Financial Advisor at Aegon

January 9th, 2015

There's always a lot of excitement around 3D printing. But Makerbot was bought 1.5 years ago and even CES 2015 presented a new kind of 3D printers that prints out food like chocolate. But it still seems like there is no real killer use case for 3D printers. Is it healthcare? Manufacturing? Would love to hear what I'm missing...

Daniel McEnnis Researcher Consultant

January 9th, 2015

Provided your product can be constructed from a very limited set of materials, anything you can image can be constructed. The key is 'limited set of materials'. Ideal for prototyping, making spare parts under field conditions, or home manufacturing of purchased designs (under above limitations). The expense of the manufacturing kits, limitations of material, limited distribution of the printers, and lack of a centralized or integrated market for selling designs for the printer limit its usefulness. Hope this helps,

Daniel McEnnis

Nicholas Joscelyne Chartered Engineer (RAeS)

January 9th, 2015

IMO the short term growth of consumer 3D printing will be quite limited - the market for people who will print replacement parts for home appliances and low-resolution plastic gee-gaws is limited (I fully expect next Christmas or the one after every middle class male in the West will get a cheap brand-name 3D printer under the tree and 90% of them will clutter up the garage alongside the rest of the power tools) - the quality just isn't there yet for mainstream consumer culture.

(However of that 90% stuck in the garage in at least some cases one of their children will use it for a school project, get inspired and have an idea that creates the next gen...)

The story will be different industrially and commercially I believe, but 3D printing will be a slower burn than say, the Internet. 3D printing will mature as an adjunct and supplement to current manufacturing techniques such as CAM and will expand to absorb and replace these methods as and when the technology allows. I see it more as a rising tide than a lightning-bolt 'killer app'.

Trent Shumay CTO at IoT Design Shop / Finger Food Studios

January 10th, 2015

We use 3D printing a ton for prototyping form factors and enclosures for the connected devices that we design. Also, for A/B testing different designs and form factors, the 3D printer is indispensable. It allows you to iterate on hardware the same way that we iterate on software today. However, I definitely agree that the low-cost 3D printing still leaves a lot to be desired and won't really be a market onto itself until farther down the line. Right now, it's still primarily suited for designers and prototyping.

Jerry Castanos Logistics Data Analyst

January 11th, 2015

3D Printing applications will change throughout the upcoming years. Currently the best growth for 3D Printing is within the educational field. 

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

April 12th, 2015

Step back Katie and look at it from 1st Principles:

  • What are the competing technologies?
  • What are the relative strengths of 3D Printing over these technologies
  • What are the relative weaknesses of 3D printing over these technologies
  • What are the complimentary products of 3D Printing
  • Who is making the complimentary and competing products
  • who are the customers?

Basically what 3D printing is, is a reverse form of CNC milling, but also one that can do contained shapes.

but it is slower than CNC and more limited in materials

Jeff Kuchak Owner/Artis at Storm Spoons

April 13th, 2015

I was thinking about this technology a few months ago.  I believe that once it becomes
integrated into the households you will see a huge shift in the way people buy goods.
It might be the biggest shift to how people purchase goods since the internet.  
I think too that print on demand or single print codes where you buy an object it is sent to your computer and the item is printed will be big.  
For example, glasses.  If you are able to 3-d print your own frames you can own any pair any style that is out there.  
I see the cost of them (items) dropping due to the fact that there will be no shipping, no packaging, no material cost.    
Also most of the "as seen on tv" items that are plastic based will can be printed at home.  It will make impulse shopping instant, no calling no shipping and handling fees, buy and its yours.  
Food based ones will also be big, take out wait for delivery...no more buy and print.  

Andra Keay Director at Silicon Valley Robotics

April 13th, 2015

The best analogy for 3D printing is photography. Photography started out as an 'expert' large and comparatively expensive process involving silver on glass plates. With the shift to cheap light celluloid film, cameras became smaller, more portable and much more popular. 

Also people could develop photos at home without needing much in the way of equipment/supplies/training. (THIS IS WHERE 3D PRINTING IS NOW) But most people weren't that motivated in putting even a small amount of work/expense in to something that was cropping up as a service at drugstores etc. (WHERE 3D PRINTING BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES ARE NOW) And soon pretty much every school/uni taught you how to develop photos and provided access to the equipment.

Then came instant photos, then came digital photos, then came home photo printers. And most photo/film companies diversified or died.

Alberto Alonso President at Global Gate Systems LLC.

January 9th, 2015

Take a look at research going on with printing organs and tissue, or the work at NASA and repair parts. Also a lot of manufacturing shops use it for either final parts, molds or just prototyping and visualization of parts.

The consumer market as a whole may not be that excited yet. Keep in mind that creating a 3D object is not something 90% of the people are accustomed to, so the demand may not be there yet. We'll see if it develops once it hits the sub $200 price point.

Troy Benjegerdes Embedded Linux consultant at Aerotek

January 11th, 2015

I do not think the real market for 3D printers will exist until some consumer electronics device shares it's design files so that end-users and shops can 3-D print their own custom case or replacement parts. It's probably going to have to be a start-up or new entrant, because everybody that *is* a big player in consumer electronics is far too overprotective of their 'product feel' to let any bozo with a printer ruin their great design.

But the first company to figure this out is going to create a whole new industry, like Apple computer did when they sold the Apple II that could be tinkered with.

Keith CHC Attorney, Healthcare Finance & Compliance Expert, Author, Public Speaker, and Entrepreneur

April 11th, 2015

FDA has so far approved 85 medical devices made using 3-D printing, most of them via the 510(k) or emergency use pathways.  It is predicted that most hospitals will purchase a least one 3-D printer for use in Operating Room service area in the next 3 years.