That 3D Printer Will Never Exist

 A gold-plated car [Source: Fabbaloo]
A gold-plated car [Source: Fabbaloo]

After attending Formnext this year I’ve realized there’s something sneaky going on at 3D printing trade shows.

You would think at a trade show vendors bring equipment to show prospective clients and the press. Those who are interested in the machine might follow up later with an actual purchase. Or perhaps the vendor contacts the prospect in hopes of making a sale later.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Prototype 3D Printers

But I’ve observed this practice is drifting a bit from that ideal, and something quite different is now occasionally seen.

In more than one case at this year’s Formnext I encountered a 3D printer manufacturer that I’d previously seen exhibiting prototype equipment. However, the prototype, its production version and associated innovations are now nowhere to be seen.

Instead, a completely different machine is displayed.

Exhibitions As Feedback

Why is the original machine gone? What happened to its innovations?

We were told that feedback from previous attendees and others over time helped the company realize that while the innovations were interesting, it turns out that few were willing to pay money for them. Thus, the original proposed product was set aside and new ideas brought forward.

Let’s think about what’s happening here. The company actually had little intent on actually marketing the proposed device, and was simply using the exhibition as a means for obtaining feedback on a concept. It wasn’t a product and likely never would be a product.

Sure, companies do exhibit prototype machines all the time, but these are usually only one or two steps behind the production machine. What I’m saying is that sometimes the supposed prototypes are actually “fishing expeditions” to gauge interest without investing a great deal into machine development.

I suppose that’s a smart thing for a company to do, as expenses may be optimized, but at the same time it is a bit misleading for those examining the proposed machine.

CES Product Display Practices

 An “AI Toy For Cats” [Source: Fabbaloo]
An “AI Toy For Cats” [Source: Fabbaloo]

I witnessed similar (and worse) practices happening at the annual CES show, in normal consumer product markets. Many times I saw what seemed to be preposterous product concepts that literally could never be practical. Things like a recipe system for your fridge that could never know what ingredients were on hand, or a motorized clothes closet that shakes your clothes for some unexplainable reason.

Again, these consumer product companies were doing one of two things: gauging interest in an unusual concept with the public, or perhaps displaying something visually outrageous in a desperate attempt to attract visitors and press.

But that’s at a trade show with 4,400 exhibitors, where attention is at a premium. The largest 3D print trade show is currently Formnext, with 852 exhibitors, or about 20% the size of CES.

I’m hoping that as Formnext increases in size it doesn’t develop the same fraudulent characteristics as sometimes seen at CES. If it does, then we’ll be soon be saying: “That 3D printer will never exist.”

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