We spent some time picking the extensive brain of Pete Basiliere, Gartner’s point person on 3D printing technology.
Gartner is a well-known consulting organization that provides research, analysis and predictions on a wide variety of technology areas, including information technology and hardware. One of the specific areas they focus on is 3D printing, and Basiliere is their analyst assigned to the technology. He interacts with vendors and customers to learn as much as possible about developments in and use of 3D printing, and then produces realistic analyses of the space for clients.
We sat down with Basiliere to ask some questions about where the 3D printing industry is heading.
This is part 2 of a 2-part interview. Part 1 is here.
Fabbaloo: Metal 3D printing has been adopted in a kind of a production sense by many companies now and that's increasing quite rapidly. But I don't think we've quite seen that with 3D printing of plastics. Why is that and do you think that it could happen?
Pete Basiliere: That's a great question. I think the amount of 3D printed items that are produced in plastic exceeds that of metal, because I'm using the term items generically because that includes prototyping. It also includes jigs, fixtures and tooling. What I do feel comfortable about is that there has been a sea change in the industry over the last couple of years and more and more enterprises are using metal 3D printing to produce finished goods. We see that in conversations that we have with Gartner clients on a daily basis.
So I can't say that the metal is more dominant than plastic because it will depend on how you define dominant. A metal 3D printed part is going to be much more expensive than your common 3D printed plastic part. Does that mean that there's greater value there? No, not necessarily.
If you talk about units, then my sense would be that given all of the new desktop 3D printers using plastic as well as the standalone machines, the likes of Stratasys and 3D Systems and others make, it is still dominantly plastic. But metal is coming up from a very low base. Keep in mind, injection molding machines can probably pump out in one day as many parts as are produced with some of these high end laser metal sintering machines in an entire year.
We have to keep in mind the fact that we're starting from a very low installed base. It's going to be really significant growth because it is over a very small base, but we've got tremendous upside potential.
At Gartner we have never tried to define the total addressable market for 3D printing, and that's partly because if you think about it there are manufacturing organizations of all sizes in every country around the world that could benefit from the use of 3D printers. It will be almost a pointless exercise to try to find the total addressable market from an investment perspective. We just say that it's extremely large and growing and it won't be for a few years until we can even begin to think about maximizing the installed base of 3D printers.
Fabbaloo: It's it's a matter of definitions, but as you say like the plastic is so much more productive.
Pete Basiliere: It gets to the value question too. There are certain items, for example the Leap fuel nozzle from General Electric. It's squirting fuel at over 1500F. There's no way a plastic component could do that! But GE needs only need 45,000 of those fuel nozzles every year once its in full production.
Fabbaloo: One thing I noticed, particular at FormNext, is that there's now bigger players that had previously been ignoring the whole space, more or less, they're now highly visible and active, most notably is BASF (a.k.a. Mitsubishi) and a few of the other really large companies. The joke at the show was that they would talk to a vendor and ask "how many kilotons of plastic they need?" They may not quite understand the space yet. The question is they're obviously bringing some money, new ideas, intellectual capital and other things to the market. Is their presence a good thing in the sense that could it enable innovation? Is there still room for startups in this space?
Pete Basiliere: Yes and yes. Yes, it's a good thing.
I think the presence of all of the companies that you mentioned is a ratification of the opportunity within the industry as well as the maturity of the technology. When you have significant third party players coming in and say "I want to offer not only materials but also software", then that's an indication that plenty of people are using it.
Plenty of people and plenty of enterprises will continue to use it, so it's a growth market. Those companies are early adopters, if you will, they're trying to make sure that they have a place in the market and therefore they are a thought leader and are seen that way by the industry. It doesn't mean there is no place for startups. Absolutely not. I think that you're going to continue to find more variations on existing technologies maybe even to the point where ASTM is going to have to maybe even add a couple more technologies to as definition of 3D printing, which today is only 7.
Think about the work that Desktop Metal is doing, for example, or the approach that Carbon and others are taking. Those kinds of variations on the core technologies are such that there's plenty of opportunity for startups, because people will come up with innovative ways of expanding on what we historically have thought of as 3D printing.
Fabbaloo: There's always room for a startup that's extremely well funded.
Pete Basiliere: Yeah, that certainly helps (laughs). But think about how much work is being done in universities worldwide. University of Nottingham as an example, the work being done at MIT, and the universities around the world working on it. I've lost count of how many there are that are doing some form of research on 3D printing.
That's where a lot of the ideas are going to come from. It won't necessarily be somebody working in their garage any longer like you know Scott Crump, Chuck Hull or how Dr. Langer did it. I'm not belittling how they started it, not by any stretch, but my point is that the industry is so well-established now that you've got major private and public research organizations and universities doing work. Those people will be able to find the funding to be able to take what is a university project and make a commercial product.
Fabbaloo: Have we exhausted the possible processes for 3D printing or are there other processes yet to be discovered? I've been wondering this for a while now. Is there any other way to do this? We've seen variations, and the odd time we see something new, but are we the beginning or are we at the end?
Pete Basiliere: That's a great question. I don't know that it's an "end" kind of question. I don't think "the end" response is right. But as you point out there are going to continue to be variations on variations on that theme. That I think is going to be the dominant area of moving forward.
Now could there be some other breakthrough form of building layer on layer? It's conceivable. I don't think we've touched on all the opportunities that inkjet technology as a core could do. It could be used to transform 3D printing. You've got the really nascent work being done 4D printing. We won't be lacking for innovation that's for sure, one way or the other.
Fabbaloo: What in 3D printing do you have your eyes on for 2018?
Pete Basiliere: Certainly amongst several of the largest players, I'm monitoring 3D Systems and Stratasys as well as how Carbon and HP perform.
Then the early indications around Desktop Metal, Markforged and XJET, all for different reasons. I'm grouping them like that for you because the first group above are what I think of as the established players. This market still has a tremendous amount of upside. How will the established players perform?
Next, Carbon and HP brought a lot of innovation, a lot of hype, a lot of marketing expertise as well as very competent equipment when they came into the market. They're past their first year or two: "We've got a product and we're beta testing it"; now they're at the point where they they will be establishing a presence in the market.
How are they going to do that now that they're past that "early stage of product, what do you think" to "we've got an installed base and this is what they're doing". Those are the reasons to watch folks like that.
Finally, the last group includes the innovators in technology and we could name a whole bunch of companies. The ones I mentioned came to mind mainly because they are among the ones that are going to be cutting edge in terms of the technology and to even some new price points for what they do.
How will they perform with their equipment? The Predicts report is limited; it's meant to be relatively near term or "by 2021". But I think over the long haul if we look out to say, 2035, we're going to find 3D printing has commoditized.
We won't be as worried about whose printer we use to produce the part or even whose materials they used to produce the part. We as buyers, as engineers and designers, will be saying "Go Print". It be very similar to the old 2D paper printing environment. You can have a Canon, you can have an Epson, HP or other printer sitting on your desk and you don't care whether it's a Canon, HP, Epson or whatever, as longs as it prints that document I want to have printed.
I think that by 2035 the market will be at a place where multiple machines from different manufacturers could do the job equally well.
Instead we will be more concerned about the content, the file to be produced, than we will be about which machine is producing it.
This is part 2 of a 2-part interview. Part 1 is here.