Negative 3D Printing Hype is Highlighting Burst Bubbles, A Dying Industry and A Dire Threat

By on July 20th, 2016 in Ideas


 Rachel Park is dismayed over recent mass media portrayals of 3D printing
Rachel Park is dismayed over recent mass media portrayals of 3D printing

Over the last month or so I have found myself once again increasingly frustrated at the nonsensical hype being spouted from some quarters about ‘3D printing’. 

A synonym for ‘increasingly frustrated’ could be apoplectic! The first line of this post is one that, in various forms, I have been expounding for around 7-8 years; but these past weeks the 3D printing hype has taken a sudden although not completely unexpected turn — approximately 180 degrees! 

These days, 3D printing (as a single entity), rather than being portrayed as a global solution to EVERYTHING, is now in its final death throes — apparently! Of course, it does depend where you source your information, but there are a number of channels jumping on the negative hype bandwagon and producing sham headlines to generate clicks — the content that follows is not much better and shows little understanding of the technologies or their widespread and valuable application. A couple of the more notable epistles demonstrating this trend follow here, primarily in the hope that it highlights their mendacious nature and secondly, if I’m being completely honest, to vent. Also, links are provided, so that you can, should you choose to give them the traffic, see the nonsense in full for yourself! 

The catalyst appears to be an article in Newsweek published just over a month ago and entitled “The 3D Printing Bubble May have Burst.” The thrust of it is actually a history lesson of the desktop 3D printing industry and the mistake that virtually everyone in the industry has identified today, with 20:20 hindsight, namely the targeting of the non-existent consumer market. The obligatory references to the struggles of 3D Systems and Stratasys’ MakerBot are made and correlated with the ever-decreasing share prices. But there’s the thing, if the only parameter used to measure the health of this industry is fiscal and only in relation to the original two OEMs then the lens through which you are looking gives a massively distorted perspective of “the 3D printing industry.” 

Broaden that perspective out, even just a little bit, and everything else that is happening around the 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry points to positive growth and a healthy disposition — just a few might be:

  • the number of flourishing start-up companies 
  • new products and services 
  • exponential application development (above and below radar)
  • growth — in terms of machine sales and the ecosystem itself
  • investment — both direct and indirect
  • increasing numbers of national 3D printing / additive manufacturing programmes. 

The 3D printing industry is a really exciting space to be operating in right now — it’s still relatively small (compared with digital printing and/or manufacturing in general) but that is precisely what makes it a great space to be in. 

I won’t lie, the headline “4 Important Lessons You Can Learn Now That 3D Printing is Dying” made my blood boil. Appearing on towards the end of last month, this headline, and accompanying article, is referring only to desktop 3D printing as applied to the consumer market. A market that, as stated, most agree never existed. On that basis alone, the headline is plain wrong. Something that never existed can’t die or be dying. What does exist is a flourishing desktop 3D printer market (and ecosystem) that is becoming well established across the design, educational and engineering sectors. Only recently I spoke with the CEO of Ultimaker who reported huge growth and uptake in these areas. Similarly, the much maligned MakerBot is testifying to similar, along with a raft of competing — and thriving — companies in the same space, along with the filament suppliers. Moreover, there was not even a whisper about the strong and strengthening industrial applications of 3D printing.

And then there was this …. on 3DPI“3D Printing – A Dire Threat to Workers.” I literally choked on my coffee as I read it, and I was in the middle of a packed conference auditorium at the time, so that was more than a little embarrassing!

Deceptive title aside – the author of the post witters on about the low-paid labour market in Cambodia specifically around textiles and apparel production. The point –  lost completely in the post itself — but made with more clarity in the comments section by readers, does strike a cord, in that people in general do fear automation, and you can extrapolate out from that and identify 3D printers as an “automation” technology sub-sector. But these fears, whether of automation in general, or 3D printers more specifically, are unfounded, IMHO — because it’s not about replacing jobs it’s about transitioning jobs. As one clever bod suggested to me — ‘labour is a rising tide of skills’ — suggesting the global labour market is unlikely to contract it’s only going to change! We just have to adapt and if at all possible, avoid the histrionics as we do …. Please! 

By Rachel Park

Rachel Park is an accomplished print and web writer and editor with more than 24 years’ experience. Her specific area of expertise is the 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing sector, a market she has been immersed in since 1996.  Rachel works as an independent freelance journalist and runs her own copywriting and editing business.