3D Printing: Hype Vs. Reality

During the 3D Printing USA Conference IDTechEx's Rachel Gordon gave an update on the state of the 3D printing industry as it’s been quite an interesting 2015.

� Carbon3D's CLIP technology for layerless 3D printing. 

 

During the 3D Printing USA Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Rachel Gordon, technology analyst with IDTechEx (the conference’s host) gave an update on the state of the 3D printing industry as it’s been quite an interesting 2015.

 

For instance:

 

  • In April 2015, Makerbot layoff 20% of workforce
  • In May 2015, 3D Systems posted a Q1 loss and withdrew their revenue guidance
  • In July 2015, Stratasys withdraw their revenue guidance
  • In October 2015, Makerbot layoff 20% of workforce (again)
  • DDD and SSYS stocks continue to tank.

 

“With the stock price drop of 3D Systems and Stratasys there is currently a very negative feel. But is it all bad news?” she asked. “I firmly believe no. I believe there was too much hype for the possibilities of 3D printing— for instance everyone at home could make anything they want—that is not reality.”

 

But Gordon said there are signs the 3D printing industry is going in a good direction. For instance, larger multinational companies are getting involved in the industry, which will bring a lot of manufacturing expertise that will help the system grow.

 

Here are some examples she cited:

 

  • Lenovo, the second PC manufacturer in the world, got directly involved in desktop digital manufacturing, by announcing a range of 3D printers. The tech giant will rebrand and distribute all the 3D printers manufactured by XYZ printing.
  • Ricoh become an official reseller of Leapfrog 3D printers in Europe from January 2015. Ricoh then launched an industrial-grade SLS 3D printer. This may be only the first 3D printer from the company, as they continue to develop new materials and improved functions with Aspect Inc.
  • Canon, the photo and printing giant, unveiled its first 3D printer concept, meant to be faster and produce stronger prints than current technologies. It is a new resin-based lamination process.
  • Staples partnered with 3D Systems to offer 3D printing in some stores, and UPS partnered with Stratasys to also offer 3D printing as a service.

 

There are also growing research partnerships. For instance, EnvisionTEC announced its collaboration with DSM Somos, for additive manufacturing material development to advance their technologies and develop new applications. In addition, Covestro have partnered with Polymaker to make polycarbonate filament (something Plastics Technology covered here).

 

There’s also been new machine innovations announced of late. Voxel8 offers a 3D printer that is a hybrid of thermoplastic extrusion and conductive ink extrusion. This allows 3D objects to be printed using the thermoplastic to provide mechanical strength and electrical insulation and the conductive ink to provide electrical conductivity. Ford has partnered with Silicon Valley startup Carbon3D on using the company’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology. Carbon 3D claim CLIP is 25 to 100 times faster than standard 3D printing.

 

In addition, there has been increased funding such as Autodesk announced that it intends to invest up to $100 million in 3D printing companies over the next several years. Companies and individuals developing ground-breaking hardware, software, materials, marketplaces and maker spaces are encouraged to apply to participate in the Spark Investment Fund’s investment portfolio.

 

“This unique combination of strategic investment and value-added partnership opportunity that Autodesk seeks to extend and empower the Spark ecosystem and spur innovation toward a more mature 3D printing experience,” Gordon said. “Autodesk have already invested in Voxel8, Fit AG and Delcam. They seem to be aiming towards a complete 3D printing ecosystem.”

 

Another positive sign for the industry? Going beyond the prototypes to produce functional parts. I’ll look at that concept closer in my next blog report from the conference.