Open3DP reacted to our reaction to MAKE’s post regarding the future of 3D printer manufacturers. MAKE suggested the hobbyist manufacturers would ultimately be eaten by cheap Asian factories, while we commented on the differences between the hobbyist and commercial 3D printer markets. Open3DP adds an analysis of material costs in the equation, suggesting that the commercial manufacturers tend to price their media a teensy bit more than the usual markup.
We agree – materials costs can be quite high, especially when you check out the unit cost per weight. But they are specialized materials, designed to produce the best 3D printed results. You can spend a lot on materials.
But wait – if we look at the 2D printer space, they have a similar scenario. Major manufacturers practically give away their printers for next to nothing, then charge massively for ink. Yes, it is indeed a massive charge: the cost of ink per volume is one of the most expensive fluids dripping on the surface of Planet Earth. According to this chart, inkjet ink goes for around USD$2700 per US gallon, exceeded only (on that chart) by such exotics as the element Mercury, human insulin, Chanel No. 5, LSD and a couple of rare animal venoms. And that’s for the *black* ink!
So the 2D printer business model is to give away the razor and sell the blades. But it works! People buy printers and they buy ink, and lots of it. Could the same happen to 3D printers?
We think not. The low-end space is already occupied by hobbyist 3D printers and the commercial printers are not particularly close to them in price. In fact, at USD$1,000 the price of a 3D printer is sufficiently low to attract quite a large market even today. But there’s still a problem. While many folks may have USD$1,000 to spare for printer purchase, they don’t have the skills, tools or the time to spend to get their hobby 3D printer actually working. And that’s going to be a big problem for the hobby manufacturers as they expand and their market starts impinging on non-techies. Today there are plenty of people who can operate a hobbyist printer, but to truly expand the devices must be significantly simplified. How simple? It must pass the “Mom” test. Mom must be able to successfully use the device without having to call for help more than once per month.
Mom’s 3D Printer? Truth: there is no such thing at the moment. But we’re hopeful, right Mom?