I’m reading a piece in TechCrunch by Signe Brewster entitled “Whatever happened to 3D printing?” and have some thoughts.
In the TechCrunch piece, Brewster describes the recent “shakeup” in the world of 3D printing, starting with the very unfortunate demise of Solidoodle, a now-closed maker of inexpensive desktop 3D printers. Other tales of woe are also listed, not the least of which is 3D Systems’ massive decision to completely shut down their entire consumer division, including hardware, software and content.
It’s definitely a sad tale, but back to the question, “Whatever happened to 3D printing?”
There are two answers, in my thinking.
First, in the world of industrial 3D printing, there has been really no significant change over this period. New machines have been introduced, additional sales have been made and more business users have been “turned on” to the many benefits of industrial 3D printing. Steady growth, more or less.
Secondly, in the world of desktop 3D printing, there has been a significant collapse. Due to the maneuvers of certain entrepreneurial individuals, the desktop 3D printing movement was massively over-hyped in the period of 2009-2014, leading many in the public to believe the technology could accomplish things it could simply not do. Once they discovered otherwise, the market collapsed and any small companies who based their success on future sales quickly evaporated.
But now one might ask, “What’s HAPPENING to 3D printing?”
In the industrial world, things continue as above. But in the desktop dimension, it’s getting quite interesting. We are seeing the smart survivors of the crash re-focus their efforts on markets that actually appreciate and can truly benefit from the technology, such as educators, professionals, designers, engineers and more. We’re seeing ever-more sophisticated desktop equipment released every month that includes features and quality undreamed of in previous machine generations. And finally, we’re also seeing an influx of high-quality and inexpensive machines from innovative Asian manufacturers. All in all, it’s a very promising situation, but far less flashy than 2013.
Things are looking up!