Has 3D Printing Hit The Knee Of The Curve?

We’re pondering a couple of recent developments in the low-end 3D printing space that may indicate a change of state in the low-end 3D printing world.
 
First, Shapeways received a massive investment from top-ranked venture capital firms: USD$5M from Union Square Ventures and Index Ventures. We wrote, and still believe that this means Union Square thinks there could be a big future in 3D printing. They must believe many people will be printing objects via 3D print services, and they want to be one of them. 
 
Has 3D Printing Hit The Knee Of The Curve?Second, MakerBot suddenly introduced a brand new printer this week, the Thing-O-Matic. This powerful printer is an evolutionary step over their previous model, the Cupcake, but may also be a reaction to competition from PP2P’s Up! pre-assembled printer. MakerBot has also hired a number of new bloggers and technicians, and seems to be in a sort of expansion mode, no doubt to meet increasing demands and capitalize on a growing market for 3D printing capability. 
 
Both events tell us something profound: those in the know are putting real dollars behind these ventures because they believe there is a big future in 3D printing. Be it from a service or from an owned printer, many people will be printing objects in the future. These guys are making it happen, right now. 
 
Where will the next big investment be? And which of the big commercial manufacturers will take notice and release a low-end 3D printer or consumer-friendly 3D print service to compete? It’s not too late yet, but as the knee of the curve bends upwards, it will become increasingly difficult for others to catch up. 
 
What do you think?
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8 Responses

  1. That might be right – the population is aging and can also afford hearing equipment more than previous generations. It's the baby-boomers hitting the seniors market. And hearing aids are something that should be custom-fitted for each individual. Probably a good prediction, Joris!

  2. That might be right – the population is aging and can also afford hearing equipment more than previous generations. It's the baby-boomers hitting the seniors market. And hearing aids are something that should be custom-fitted for each individual. Probably a good prediction, Joris!

  3. Actually it might just be hearing aids again. I've heard several times now at conferences that the largest consumer facing 3d printing application has been hearing aids for years now. I don't have numbers but I remember that it's happening on a huge scale to a mass market of consumers.

  4. Actually it might just be hearing aids again. I've heard several times now at conferences that the largest consumer facing 3d printing application has been hearing aids for years now. I don't have numbers but I remember that it's happening on a huge scale to a mass market of consumers.

  5. Semiconductors ran in parallel with vacuum tubes until the hearing aid… who would have predicted the hearing aid was the defining technology that created the separation? Here, the competition is between improvements in central manufacturing and mass distribution, with all the machine set up and transportation logistics and investment in stability that is required, vs. broad, local manufacturing, way further along the value chain, to create local things without the product compromises or administrative overhead or delays or barriers to entry of the mass market. Kevin Carson gets at some of this in Homebrew Industrial Revolution.

    What will the breakthrough product be, the disruptive thing that mass market can't move quickly enough on, cannot get at with a compromise product that competes? What is locally defined, personally desired, broadly wanted, worth enough for the effort to run one's own 3d printer, or a neighborhood 3d printer, or a 3d printer at a specialty store? That's what the local fab environment is hunting for, implicitly. It may be something we get another way already, like jewelry or garden art, or it may be whimsy objects each printed its own way that everyone wants for status and amusement, or it may be something personally useful, like a custom ear piece for headphones, or something entirely new, that we have forgotten we really needed and can want again, maybe with a huge build space (things that can't ship) or maybe just in time (can't create a product fast enough) or maybe specified w/out manufacturing complexity (like CloudFab) after we see what the low end printers can do for us.

    Whatever happens, my bet is, it comes from a way cool low end printer that's just gotten good enough to see a really big future. Putting money into these companies is a ticket for the ride.

  6. Semiconductors ran in parallel with vacuum tubes until the hearing aid… who would have predicted the hearing aid was the defining technology that created the separation? Here, the competition is between improvements in central manufacturing and mass distribution, with all the machine set up and transportation logistics and investment in stability that is required, vs. broad, local manufacturing, way further along the value chain, to create local things without the product compromises or administrative overhead or delays or barriers to entry of the mass market. Kevin Carson gets at some of this in Homebrew Industrial Revolution.

    What will the breakthrough product be, the disruptive thing that mass market can't move quickly enough on, cannot get at with a compromise product that competes? What is locally defined, personally desired, broadly wanted, worth enough for the effort to run one's own 3d printer, or a neighborhood 3d printer, or a 3d printer at a specialty store? That's what the local fab environment is hunting for, implicitly. It may be something we get another way already, like jewelry or garden art, or it may be whimsy objects each printed its own way that everyone wants for status and amusement, or it may be something personally useful, like a custom ear piece for headphones, or something entirely new, that we have forgotten we really needed and can want again, maybe with a huge build space (things that can't ship) or maybe just in time (can't create a product fast enough) or maybe specified w/out manufacturing complexity (like CloudFab) after we see what the low end printers can do for us.

    Whatever happens, my bet is, it comes from a way cool low end printer that's just gotten good enough to see a really big future. Putting money into these companies is a ticket for the ride.

  7. I also think that the New York Times article helped hugely. Its going to bring a lot of MBA types into this industry and commercialise it much more. The investment and continued media attention that Makerbot is getting is also going to get a lot of people to think about starting companies in this space. If you look at how small the entire rapid manufacturing industry is there is still a huge scope for growth. I think the consumer space still has a few years yet to form though. There are a lot of niches that in and of themselves could be billion dollar buisnesses that simply now have no single company active in the space. So I would say that this is the tipping point for the consumer business but that the major work still has to be done.

  8. I also think that the New York Times article helped hugely. Its going to bring a lot of MBA types into this industry and commercialise it much more. The investment and continued media attention that Makerbot is getting is also going to get a lot of people to think about starting companies in this space. If you look at how small the entire rapid manufacturing industry is there is still a huge scope for growth. I think the consumer space still has a few years yet to form though. There are a lot of niches that in and of themselves could be billion dollar buisnesses that simply now have no single company active in the space. So I would say that this is the tipping point for the consumer business but that the major work still has to be done.

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