We’ve been writing about 3D printing for over eight years now, and 2015 may have been the most tumultuous and amazing year yet seen. Let’s look at what happened.
We’d like to name this past year one of “Correction”, as that seemed to be the major theme. It was a time when older strategies expired and were cleared away, making room for new approaches, hopefully some that will carry the technology forward in 2016.
But what of this “correction”?
The major correction we saw was in the stock prices of publicly traded 3D printing companies. Previously, they had risen to dizzying levels, making many individuals quite wealthy. The smart ones got out before the prices crashed - or perhaps merely “corrected” to more appropriate levels.
The crash, we feel, was directly related to poorly-informed investors suddenly realizing their hyped-up view of the magical technology of 3D printing wasn’t quite the science fiction dream they may have thought it was.
For some investors, this was a disaster, as some may have lost the major portion of the their 3D printing investment. To us, it’s a return to normality where the price more accurately reflects the state of affairs in 3D printing.
Another correction occurred in desktop 3D printing, where almost every player recognized that “true” consumer 3D printing wasn’t quite ready for the general public. Certainly there are many consumers who actually do 3D printing, but the number of them is yet insufficient to support mass production levels.
As a result, most of the larger desktop 3D printer manufacturers have switched their marketing strategies to focus instead on more profitable markets, such as professional firms, educational institutions and as “draft-quality” equipment for those with commercial 3D printing gear.
This most notably includes MakerBot, who apparently have all but abandoned the consumer segment, one which they were perhaps the first to identify with. MakerBot also does not have a dedicated booth at the Consumer Electronics Show, underlining this change in philosophy.
3D Systems took this phenomenon a bit further by essentially eliminating their consumer division! They shut down not only production of their flagship consumer 3D printer, The Cube, but its entire ecosystem as well. They’re now focusing solely on prosumer and industrial 3D printing applications.
That wasn’t the only big change from 3D Systems in 2015, either. In the fall they parted ways with long time CEO Avi Reichental, which signaled the end of his strategy of corporate acquisition. Under Reichental, the company acquired literally dozens of companies in an attempt to build a powerful collection of patents, processes, software, hardware and 3D content. Unfortunately, the strategy did not seem to play out to the satisfaction of 3D Systems shareholders. This event may influence how 3D printing companies pursue acquisitions in the future.
Another major development in 2015 was the ongoing release of new and unique 3D printing materials by several companies. We saw new plastics specifically designed for 3D printing, as well as a large number of composite filaments, containing everything from powdered metals to coffee!
Finally, 2015, we believe, was the last year in which we would see “rough” desktop 3D printers from startup companies have a chance at succeeding. As the year progressed, new entrants increasing offered very slick packages, far from the bundles of parts, wires and laser-cut wood and acrylic we saw in previous years. Nowadays, the “ante” for launching a 3D printer is more significant than ever, and thus we should see fewer, but more capable, machine launches from now on.
2015 was a great year for 3D printing, especially in the technical aspects, but we believe also for corporations, in spite of the troubles. With the corrections of 2015 done, the way is cleared for more progress to occur in 2016 and beyond.
We can't wait!