A quick glance at 3D Systems' marketing material lately might have you believe they're selling injection molding equipment. But not really.
One of their recent white paper downloads is entitled, "High-Speed Digital Molding", and another page touts "Injection Molding", saying:
3D Systems’ advanced solutions for mold and tool design and manufacturing mean you can create better, more complex injection molded parts at a lower cost and in a fraction of the time
Is this true? Is 3D Systems really selling injection molding equipment?
Of course, not. They continue to sell 3D printing equipment, supplies and services as before. This is simply a different marketing spin. But it is quite telling and is perhaps one of the moves I've anticipated for a very long time.
There seems to have been three "eras" of 3D printing:
The initial stage in which 3D printing was a very poorly understood technology and used only rarely in industrial environments for prototyping. A formative stage where even the terminology used was not yet set.
A second, very public stage, in which the launch of inexpensive 3D printing equipment brought the concept to millions of people who had never heard of such a thing. The growth strategies in this era sometimes relied on the "thrill" of 3D printing, as if it were some type of magic.
A future era in which the magic has dissipated and instead 3D printing is viewed as simply just another tool that can be used in certain situations. This would appear to be the normal fate of any technology: it becomes a tool that blends into the environment and is used appropriately when called upon.
Consider the smartphone in your pocket. This is an astonishing device, particularly if you wind the clock back ten, twenty or even thirty years. At that point such a device would literally have been considered magical. But in between a transformation took place in our views of the device's technology.
The same appears to be happening with 3D printing. What I see with 3D Systems' marketing strategy here is that they are no longer talking about 3D printing per se, but instead are talking about the technology as if it was just another kind of injection molding machine. On these 3D Systems pages "3D Printing" is hardly even mentioned.
I think it's a smart strategy. The company's new Figure 4 system is able to automatically produce parts that happen to be more or less equivalent of injection molded parts, but with several advantages. By speaking to those companies using injection molding in their own terms, I think they could find a passage to a lot more sales.
But it may also herald the end of the second era of 3D printing, as "3D printers" are apparently no longer "3D printers". They're just machines that do stuff. Amazing stuff.
Thus the magic may be going away, finally, after more than ten years. But like me, you may someday look at a 3D printing and, for a moment, allow that familiarity to wash away and again reveal the astonishing power of this technology.