3D printing’s demise: Putting the cart before the horse.


I want to express my gratitude for the amazing feedback and insightful discussion that came out of my previous article, “RIP 3D Printing: 1987 – 2023, Complexity is Expensive.” The response was overwhelming and it has motivated me to explore further into the future of the 3D printing industry.

For the past decade, the industry has heavily relied on funding from investors. However, I believe it is time to shift our focus towards generating genuine revenue and profits. This poses a challenge as only a few companies in the sector are highly profitable, while others may have profitability but are burdened by debt. Finding companies that have both high revenue and growth is also limited.

In my perspective, the most promising avenue for industry growth lies in “rapid applications”, where consumers can easily purchase 3D-printed goods directly from the additive manufacturing industry. This approach allows for quicker design iterations, resulting in better products. By selling these products, we can generate revenue faster than by selling machines or services alone. This revenue can then be used to expand the industry based on these profitable applications.

As many have pointed out, there are several challenges holding the 3D printing industry back. One major obstacle is the limited accessibility of CAD software. It is expensive, difficult to master, and complex, making it difficult for the majority of people to effectively use 3D printing or design the products that are needed. The number of people proficient in CAD is equivalent to the number of people who speak Esperanto, a language that has not gained widespread adoption.

Another concern is the cost and speed of machines and materials. Both are expensive, with materials sometimes costing up to 15 times more than their non-3D printed counterparts. While some materials are becoming more affordable, we still have limitations in terms of material variety, color, surface finish, and fatigue strength. The cost of producing large items through 3D printing is exorbitant, and issues with reliability and repeatability persist. Labor is also a significant portion of the overall expense, and post-processing of parts often requires additional time and machinery.

The qualification process for parts is lengthy, complicating quality assurance and production ramp-up, which are already complex processes. Furthermore, there is a scarcity of consultancies that can guide companies from inception to manufacturing. Currently, there are no systems integrators that can set up an entire factory for AM, although progress is being made in sectors like dental care. Customization options for machines are limited, and there is a shortage of skilled operators, designers, and engineers in the field.

All of these factors contribute to the high investment of time and money for uncertain outcomes, which inhibits growth in the additive manufacturing sector.

However, there are success stories in the industry, like Invisalign, which boasts a market cap of $20 billion and is expected to generate around $4 billion in revenue this year. This amounts to approximately one-third of the entire 3D printing industry’s revenue. With two million aligner molds being 3D printed daily, it raises the question of what it will take for the industry to be recognized as capable of mass production.

My main concern lies with the slow pace of profitability in the market. It feels like progress is happening at a glacial pace, much like tree sap crystallizing around trapped prehistoric insects. In our industry, we introduce new concepts, spend months developing them, and then secure funding, which can take months in itself. We hire R&D personnel who spend years building a machine, only to face a weary group of potential customers who have been let down by previous machine purchases. Their trust has been shattered. It is a long and complex process.

In conclusion, while the 3D printing industry faces numerous challenges, there is still hope for growth and success. By focusing on rapid applications and finding ways to overcome the obstacles holding us back, we can drive the industry forward. We need to address the issues with accessibility, cost, reliability, and expertise in order to make 3D printing a viable option for mass production. It won’t be easy, but with determination and innovation, the future of the 3D printing industry can be bright.

Unveiling the Complexity of 3D Printing: A Window into the Soul

In a world where mailmen bear the weight of addiction in their eyes, one may wonder if there is a haven for those entangled in the clutches of machine obsession. Alas, Machine Buyers Anonymous remains a figment of our imagination. As I observe Charlie, a fellow victim of this technologically captivating world, I can’t help but marvel at his resilience, held together by nothing more than stitches and a resilient sense of humor.

It is a peculiar realm indeed, where even an esteemed university engineering department succumbs to the allure of our machines. Three painstaking months are spent in the pursuit of making these contraptions operate, followed by an entire year dedicated to optimizing their performance. But the story doesn’t end there. An engineering manager from an automotive company suddenly swoops in, driven by a desire to embark on a financially draining side project. A hefty investment of $5 million is made, only for them to realize that the parts they produce are subpar, time-consuming, and four times more expensive than their budget allows.

The truth unfolds before us: in most revolutions, it is the sellers of tear gas, wielders of batons, and purveyors of guillotines who emerge triumphant, regardless of the battle’s outcome. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope in our mission. If we can enhance a company’s competitiveness, conserve its capital, accelerate innovation, shorten time to market, solve unique problems, or open doors to new markets, we stand a chance at delivering value. However, it is vital to acknowledge that our solutions often come at a higher cost compared to traditional methods.

Despite this reality, there are shining examples where our 3D printing solutions have triumphed. Large-scale dental, jewelry, hearing aids, and orthopedics have proven to be successful applications, where our technology possesses a distinct cost advantage over conventional manufacturing. Nevertheless, a broader assessment reveals that our parts often remain more expensive, suggesting that we have not made significant technological progress. It has taken considerable time to make 3D-printed solutions competitive in specialized realms. Thus, when I advocate for expanding the applications of 3D printing, I do not propose adhering to our current approach; evolution is imperative.

Should a car company stumble upon a 3D printing solution that aligns with their needs, they face an additional challenge – managing maintenance, design, and characterization processes. This typically necessitates the establishment of specialized labs, thrusting them into the intricate world of testing tensile bars – a name bestowed due to the potential risks of prolonged engagement leading to alcoholism. Unquestionably, numerous variables permeate the fabrication process, including placement, orientation, components, and properties. The machine may possess a shiny window, but it is more than a mere observation point – it delves into the realm of alchemy. Enhancing its performance may well involve resorting to ancient rituals such as sacrificing chickens.

Speaking of lean manufacturing, could stress-induced reduced appetite be the key? While an intriguing concept, my experience suggests that Santeria, a syncretic religion, may offer a more effective path. In fact, when a client once sought insight on saving money with 3D printing, my tongue-in-cheek response was to sell the printer. As the conversation shifted to making money, I playfully suggested consulting or organizing 3D printing trade shows. However, companies venturing into this domain must comprehend that the path forward is not a straightforward one. Implementing automation, quality assurance, and various other necessary steps is a complex and costly endeavor. The questions that arise, such as whether to use CT scans for each part in the process of scanning and quality control, only begin to scrape the surface of the iceberg. In truth, fully integrating 3D printing within an organization demands years of effort and substantial financial investment. Unfortunately, the slow pace of implementation renders it unfeasible for many companies.

In conclusion, as we navigate the tumultuous seas of the 3D printing industry, it is crucial to stay abreast of all the latest news and developments. Only by doing so can we truly grasp the intricacies of this ever-evolving landscape. Moreover, keeping an open line of communication with third-party vendors can provide valuable insights and opportunities to explore. Let us embark on this journey together, unveiling the complexity of 3D printing and experiencing the window it opens into the very soul of innovation.

Original source


“Why did the 3D printer go to therapy? Because it had too many layers of unresolved issues!”

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Meet the mastermind behind NozzleNerds.com: GCode-Guru, a 3D printing wizard whose filament collection rivals their sock drawer. Here to demystify 3D tech with a mix of expert advice, epic fails, and espresso-fueled rants. If you've ever wondered how to print your way out of a paper bag (or into a new coffee cup), you're in the right place. Dive into the world of 3D printing with us—where the only thing more abundant than our prints is our sarcasm.


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