We’re Not Big Enough!

The 3D Print market is clearly at a very early stage of development. As such, there are fewer buyers than in a mature market. This means the costs of R&D must be absorbed by those fewer buyers. In other words, it’s gonna be expensive until there’s a lot more of us.

To put this in perspective, we encountered a rather provocative quote in a recent article in Forbes magazine. The article was all about Fab@home and its visionary, Evan Malone. However, buried deep in the article Forbes writer Andy Greenberg points out that the current crop of commercial 3D printers are quite expensive, including market leader Z Corp. Then this:

But ZCorp’s own vice president of business development concedes that the machines could be sold for far cheaper. “We could design a 3D printer that would cost less than $500, but you wouldn’t have 500,000 consumers who would buy it,” he says. “So without a bigger market, taking the price down by three-quarters or nine-tenths doesn’t do anything but kill your company.”

Aha. So printers will eventually drop in price. But how will the market be created? We suspect that Malone’s Fab@Home and other projects like it, combined with the upcoming Desktop Factory device, will slowly build the market sufficiently large for serious competition to occur.

Via Forbes

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3 Responses

  1. Good question jochem. Why would anyone want to own their own 3d printer? Well it all depends on who, what, where, when, why, and how!

    If they are working for a defense company or a top secret project, it is preferred to keep everything in house. Also, if a company is large enough and does alot of RP, then the ROI might make sense. ALso depends on what they are trying to print. With over 40 different technologies on the scene, and hundreds of materials, not every company is going to own every type of machine. In addition, there is a slight learning curve to each one. Also depending on location and how soon they need parts, having an in 3D printer can cut lead times. If they have 1-3 days, then using a company like http://www.ems-usa.com, may make sense.

  2. Jochem asked Why would you want to own a 3D printer if you can use [Shapeways]?

    It would make sense if you had a lot of items to print, and you didn’t want to wait for shipping, and you had a cheap source of feedstock. If you don’t have much to print and you don’t care about shipping delays and you don’t mind paying Shapeways’s material price, by all means use Shapeways.

    3D printers are still groping for the killer app that will grow the market, allowing them to move toward an economic equilibrium where the printers become cheap and you pay for a consumable, like inkjet printers and ink cartridges today (or the more classic model of razors and blades). So far the popular uses are novelty jewelry and game avatars, neither supporting terribly high volumes. The market is currently the right size to support service bureaus, and that’s what we’ve got.

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