3D printing is a lot of hype and it’ll never go mainstream

Some of the hottest technology stocks in 2012 weren’t really even technology stocks.

3D printing, an industrial technology that has actually been around for nearly 30 years, suddenly seems to have come of age.  Technology refinements, lower prices and an emerging consumer market drove 3D printing stocks higher in 2012, with Stratasys (SSYS) up 164% for the year, 3D Systems (DDD) rising 270%, Arcam (AMAVF) up 145% and Proto-Labs (PRLB) up 36% from its February 24 IPO.

And 3D printing has gotten off to a strong 2013. In the first week of January, at the annual CES convention in Las Vegas, private company MakerBot wowed crowds with a (relatively) low-cost dual extruding 3D printer, which can print in two differing materials and in two different colors. Wowee.

From a stock market perspective, it’s not hard to see why these companies’ shares recently took off. Revenues for this group grew around 20-30% in 2012. Street analysts predict no slowdown any time soon. And with war horses like Microsoft, Nokia and Research in Motion fading fast, there are fewer and fewer options for growth investors.

There’s no doubt that 3D printing (also known as stereolithography to old-timers like me) offers tangible benefits to manufacturers, shortening product development times and reducing waste. But there are two dangers on the horizon for investors: 1) the assumption that a consumer-oriented mass market will develop for these machines, and 2) the destructive cannibalization of these companies’ profitable high end devices.

First, the consumer market. My belief? It’ll never happen. The current “low-end” of commercial 3D printers costs about $10,000 a unit, plus a few thousand dollars per year in plastic resin. Newer devices, like 3D Systems’ Cube and CubeX printers are priced as low as $1400. Could $1000 be far off? $500?

But getting consumers to buy millions of these devices isn’t about the price of the box. It’s about the time and effort necessary to make anything useful. As for effort, consider that industrial design is done by professionals with years of education and practical experience. Capable designers make high five-figure salaries. Because of the high labor expense of industrial design, there has already been sufficient motivation to create easy-to-use CAD-CAM software.

And yet none exists. Catia, AutoCAD, Creo and other CAD programs are powerful, but as yet they have not become easy to use, even for professionals. So the idea that the existence of cheap 3D printing will somehow beget easy-to-use design software is delusional.

Some have compared the arrival of cheap 3D printers with that of cheap word-processing software and ink-jet printers 30 years ago. But that was different, because typing was a skill already possessed by the majority of educated adults, and people were already comfortable with the process of creating documents. The PC/WordPerfect combo simply facilitated something that was already happening on a large scale. But the ability to use even rudimentary 3D design software is not a common skill, nor is it one picked up easily. There’s a reason why computer-aided design is a white collar profession, while the ability to type used to qualify a person for… the typing pool.

As for the time involved, consider that the revolution in manufacturing is occurring because rather than send a design to a metal foundry and receiving a solid prototype back three weeks later, you can now get a plastic version in three hours. That’s an immense improvement in productivity. But will a consumer wait three hours for their home 3D printer to kick out a replacement chess piece? A coffee stirrer? Or some other tchotchke? Except for a few thousand early adopters, I doubt it.

Meanwhile, back on the factory floor, how long will commercial customers of industrial-grade 3D printers react to seeing these ultra-cheap consumer machines when they’re paying $50,000 – $100,000 for the “big iron”? In our new world of BYOD (“bring your own device”), you’d better believe that manufacturing operations managers will be test-driving all the new low-end devices and pressuring their traditional suppliers for a good explanation why they’re paying so much.

It’s not hard to see 3D Systems and Stratasys as the Wang Labs and Digital Equipment in this updated drama: high-tech behemoths about to be overrun by Moore’s Law, as newer equipment selling for 1 or 2 orders of magnitude less collapse their business models.

What would make my dire predictions not so dire? The availability of inexpensive printing media other than plastics like ABS and PLA. Aircraft-grade steel would be nice. Ceramics and glass would be good too. With materials like these, you could actually manufacture real products, rather than just prototypes. And of course it would be nice to make things in minutes or seconds, rather than hours.

But until then, watch out. The publicly-traded 3D printing firms (both the device manufacturers and the service bureaus) are trading at lofty premiums, based in part on what low-end devices will do to expand the market.

In the near term, the investment outlook is rosy due to simple momentum. But as with an object created by a 3D printer, sometimes you can’t see the flaw in the plan until a lot of time has gone by.

Photo: makerbot

  • JimTCT

    Barry,

    I’m going to have to call you on most of this. Firstly, your assertion ‘…3D printing (also known as stereolithography to old-timers like me)’ is just wrong. Stereolithography is one process, pioneered by 3D Systems (DDD), that is labelled as ’3D printing’. All stereolithography is 3D printing, but by no means is all 3D printing stereolithography. Stratasys (SSYS) and Arcam (AMAVF), both quoted here, use processes that are nothing like stereolithography for a start.

    Secondly, you’re completely mixing up the consumer and professional level of 3D printing and treating them as one. Your point that commercial customers will react badly to seeing cheaper consumer-biased technology is laughably inaccurate. It’s akin to saying that the New York Times would question why its printers use multi-million dollar presses instead of a $50 ink-jet from Best Buy… Two totally different technologies with different purposes but both called ‘printing’.

    Thirdly, materials. Again totally mix up and misinformation here. For starters ‘Aircraft-grade steel would be nice.’ It would, Barry, and indeed we already have it. But to be honest aerospace OEMs will be more interested in processing reactive metals like titanium and aluminium because these metals are stronger and lighter than steels and are very difficult to process with ‘traditional’ technologies. I refer you again to Arcam, quoted in the opening paragraph, whose machines process a number of highly reactive metals and alloys ideal for medical, aerospace and automotive applications.

    Another company whose stock you quote, ProtoLabs, don’t even do 3D printing. Their whole business model revolves around quick, accurate subtractive processes (like milling injection moulding tools for example) and not additive processes. So why quote them next to SSYS, DDD and AMAVF?!

    When it comes to creating the models needed for a 3D printer your points have some merit, but companies like DDD, ADSK and others have plans to overcome this with scanning and modelling technology that is free from the constraints of CAD. And don’t forget that all the big CAD players have millions of seats of their software in schools and colleges and have done for years. The next generation of consumers and designers will almost certainly be 3D literate from the get go…

    There’s really nothing positive I can say about the above commentary.

    • bwrandall

      I certainly respect your criticism and will address it here. But I’ll begin by reminding you that my post was written with investing in mind, and my conclusion is absolutely valid: that stocks benefiting from the accelerating adoption trends of 3D printing carry valuations that assume a huge and profitable consumer market will emerge. And that the existence of much cheaper printers will not affect the pricing curve of commercial 3D printers. These ‘consumer’ and ‘cannibalization’ risks are significant and may trim these stocks’ valuations, perhaps abruptly.

      Let me address your criticisms, roughly in the order you made them.

      >> “3D printing (also known as stereolithography to old-timers like me)’ is just wrong” No, it is not wrong, for exactly the reason you state, two sentences later: “All stereolithography is 3D printing, but by no means is all 3D printing stereolithography.”

      I said it was “known” as stereolithography, not that it was stereolithography. If I had written “laptops, also known as portable computers to old-timers like me,” you would have understood the meaning, and not accused me of thinking that all portable computers are laptops.

      My turn of phrase was clearly intended to show that additive manufacturing, contrary to the belief of 3D printing fans, has been around in some form for 30 years, a point I made in the second sentence of the entire piece. I’m fully aware that there are a variety of additive processes (e.g. laser sintering) other than stereolithography and fused deposition modeling.

      >> “Secondly, you’re completely mixing up the consumer and professional level of 3D printing and treating them as one. Your point that commercial customers will react badly to seeing cheaper consumer-biased technology is laughably inaccurate. It’s akin to saying that the New York Times would question why its printers use multi-million dollar presses instead of a $50 ink-jet from Best Buy.”

      I neither wrote nor implied that “commercial customers will react badly.” In fact, I strongly implied that these customers would react positively by buying low-end printers and seeing if they could accomplish the same work to the same level of quality that their larger, commercial-grade machines could achieve. What business manager would react badly to a development that might save them a substantial amount in capital expenditure?

      And you would have to be deeply mis-informed if you didn’t know that the New York Times absolutely questions every day why its printers use multi-million dollar presses: their traditional hard-copy paper business is shrinking rapidly, replaced by readers accessing the Times on the Internet at far lower profit per reader – no $50 ink-jet from Best Buy needed.

      But your logic here is also flawed: The Times’s huge printers are for the mass production of newspapers; the ink-jet printer is not. But the comparison I made, is between a $100,000 3D modeling machine used for rapid prototyping, and a much-less-expensive (~$1500) 3D modeling machine, perhaps used for the same purpose. If the latter machine has even 50% of the capability of the former machine at 1.5% of the cost, then 3D Systems and Stratasys are going to go through a cathartic change in their business models.

      >> “Thirdly, materials. Again totally mix up and misinformation here. For starters ‘Aircraft-grade steel would be nice.’ It would, Barry, and indeed we already have it. But to be honest aerospace OEMs will be more interested in processing reactive metals like titanium and aluminium…”

      Yes, I’m aware that Arcam (and several other private companies) can do additive manufacturing using metallic materials. But my comment came in the context of thinking ahead to consumer markets, where someone at home might want to replace a broken light fixture or kitchen drawer handle. I have no doubt of the appeal of 3D printing in an aerospace context; my concern, stated several times in my piece, in whether a mass, consumer 3D printing market will emerge. And merely having cheaper 3D printers will not guarantee that.

      The problem is that consumers aren’t going to buy specialized machines and the literally hundreds of possible combinations of media (in a rainbow of colors) necessary to print real and useful products like broken light fixtures and kitchen drawer handles. Think about where you’re going to store, at the ready, all the media necessary to print out useful stuff at a moment’s notice. How much will that cost up front? Is it shelf stable? Does it throw off dangerous fumes? Has it been tested by Good Housekeeping and Underwriters Laboratories? There’s a reason why Wal-Mart is successful: cheap stuff, that you can buy when you need it, that you don’t have to store in your house until you do need it.

      >> “Another company whose stock you quote, ProtoLabs, don’t even do 3D printing. Their whole business model revolves around quick, accurate subtractive processes (like milling injection moulding tools for example) and not additive processes. So why quote them next to SSYS, DDD and AMAVF?!”

      You are correct and I was wrong to state that Proto-Labs is a 3D printing company. They are not. I regret the error. They are often lumped in with the 3D printing group because they share customer bases and are covered by the same Wall Street analysts. But I had that fact wrong.

      >> “When it comes to creating the models needed for a 3D printer your points have some merit, but companies like DDD, ADSK and others have plans to overcome this with scanning and modelling technology that is free from the constraints of CAD. And don’t forget that all the big CAD players have millions of seats of their software in schools and colleges and have done for years. The next generation of consumers and designers will almost certainly be 3D literate from the get go.”

      Yes, the big CAD players have attempted to propagate adoption of their software by giving it away to schools, but even when it’s offered up for free, it’s still hard to learn. Might “scanning and modeling technology” help as you say? It might, but the more involved it gets, the more it moves from being a convenience to being either a chore, or a craft, like knitting.

      I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this piece, which was also published elsewhere. Many people (and you are one) seem to think I’m somehow opposed to 3D printing. I’m not, and said as much in the main story.

      In a lot of the feedback I have gotten, I sense that people are confusing their own strong feelings about the empowering aspects of 3D printing with whether or not 3D printing will be a massive consumer market. But those people (and you may be one) are all self-selected to defend 3D printing, because they a) are probably high-IQ people; b) are creatively and mechanically inclined; and c) can envision a better world than the one in which we currently
      live.

      Those are all admirable traits, but together, they are only found in about 1% of the population. Half the population has an IQ of less than 100. They can use a cell phone or a TV because neither requires skill. Never mind being able to do a cost-benefit analysis about whether to make or buy a kitchen drawer handle. 3D printing will continue to be a big business and cheaper printers will grow the market for commercial users and perhaps hobbyists. But 3D printing fans need to stop using themselves as representatives of the larger population.

      Before I finish, let me offer a cautionary example. You can buy a counter-top bread maker on Amazon for a little more than $100. The ingredients for a loaf of bread are shelf stable, widely available, and probably amount to about $3. But the existence of this device hasn’t put a dent in bread sales. Over 2 billion loaves of bread were sold in the U.S. last year. Why? because a loaf of bread is about $3.50 at retail. And it’s already made and in a bag.

      It’s simple: if it’s a commodity, it will always be cheaper to buy it at retail from somebody enjoying economies of scale. If it’s a custom product, it will take time and knowledge to design and create on-the-spot – perhaps from a 3D printer. But the twain never meet. And thus, no mass market. Just a very healthy commercial market for 3D printing.

      Thanks for taking time to comment on my blog post.

      Barry Randall

      Crabtree Asset Management

      • http://www.facebook.com/baleisen B Alan Eisen

        ‘m not sure that I can agree with you on the market. I was a teacher of Physics and Robotics for years. I taught many low IQed kids advanced physics because I made them want to learn it. People can use their cell phones and TVs because they wanted to use them. So they learned. When Joe Couchpototo finds out he can make dashboard nudie statues on his kids printer the market will expand. X-Rated keychains, etc. Remember, porn drives the Internet. Je predicte custom porn products will drive this market to bizarre ends. I can’t wait to make money.

        • oblivia

          Guns, actually. Check out some of the gun-nut websites and you’ll see there’s already a very large community of people printing “lower receivers”. Now anyone can make a weapon at home.

          Then do a similar search for people printing their own dildos…

      • Jonathan

        Great response; that was very well articulated and respectful. Increasingly accurate 3d printers are currently available on kickstarter for under $500 shipped. Some of these are open source and can print over 70% of the components to make a clone of a printer with the printer, not to mention replacement parts. The ability to have a seemingly infinite army of so-so 3D printers for under $5000, paired with increasingly affordable post-processing solutions, surely has the potential to alter some current industries as well as create new ones. This is a different direction than the focus of your article, but one probably worth exploring for investment opportunities.

    • LiftTaxDuty

      Yeah. And what is this “aircraft-grade steel” anyway? The last time steel was used in aircraft construction was in Soviet Union. I guess Mig-25 has been made of ordinary, not even stainless, steel.

  • seriouslyareyouserious

    i think the argument that the common man cannot/will not design their own 3D blueprints is true, but you’re missing the obvious itunes for blueprints solution to that problem

  • bwrandall

    Thanks for your comment.

    As to your “iTunes for blueprints,” yes that’s not only a possibility but it’s already being done. Thingiverse, Blender 3D and Turbosquid are all repositories of downloadable 3D models, ready to print if you have the equipment and the right medium (i.e., plastic resin like PLA or ABS). Lots of models are free. But things you might actually need (a replacement broken part from a corporate entity with a legal department) will cost real money.

    It’s unlikely that, say, Ford is going to allow you to download the blueprint for a fender for you to print out because a) they want to amortize the expense of the tooling and design by actually selling you the replacement; and b) they (and the insurance companies) want to ensure that you’ve printed, painted and installed it correctly so as to not void the warranty.

    Never mind the whole issue of media availability: it’s unrealistic that people are going to buy specialized machines (even for just a few hundred dollars)
    and the literally hundreds of possible combinations of colors and media
    necessary to print car fenders or kitchen drawer handles or china tea cups or some other broken or missing household or personal item.

    Think about where you’re going to store, at the ready, all
    the media and paint necessary to print out useful stuff at a moment’s notice. How
    much will that cost up front? Is it shelf stable? Does it throw off
    dangerous fumes? There’s a reason why
    Wal-Mart is successful: cheap stuff, safe to use, that you can buy when you need it,
    that you don’t have to store in your house until you do.

  • fiveZ

    seriously ??? 3D printing with HARDENED MATERIALS (NOT PROTOTYPING) means I can build a custom whatever the exact size fit and specs… with little or no waste material. Just look at the way leather is being cut with high pressure water or laser or how stainless steel is worked and joined with almost no loss of quality to overheating or damage with lasers. Only a NUT would not recognize that once you get the price of these devices down to the local repair shop or small firms things are gonna be rel real different….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000979702176 Mark Holland

    You’re right that most people aren’t going to become CAD designers and engineers but it won’t matter much. Most computer users weren’t and aren’t writers either and word processing was never the primary purpose of a personal computer. Consumer 3-D printers will be used as toys: toys to make toys (and perhaps an occasional useful item). But adults LOVE toys. Smart phones are basically toys and people spend a lot of money on them.

    You’re absolutely right that 3-D printers aren’t going to fundamentally alter the way physical goods are bought and sold, not for a long time at least, but they ARE amazing little devices and they are a lot of fun. That’s enough to give them a bright future and to make their manufacturer’s stocks worthy investments.

  • Ctsmith

    The goal of this article was to convince the reader that the 3D printer will never become mainstream. To my eye the article has really only strengthened the opposite point of view. All hes proven is that there is a market for making them cheaper and more readily available right now. Then there will be a market for anything you might be able to make with 3D Printers. Then there’s the blueprints which you could download,and the ingredients or materials that would be needed.

    This guys logic follow the path of those who thought computers would never be accessible to the general public. If anything the market on this thing could force the general public to buy them. “Oh you want to buy X well I have the blueprint here for only Y dollars.” These things can print food, organs, bones, manufactured goods, art, even other 3D printers. As with Moore’s Law and computers I expect we will see a similar trend with 3D printers.

    • http://www.philosophical-ron.com/ philosophical Ron

      You say, “these things can print food, organs …” Author Randall seems to think plastics like ABS are the main feedstock that can be easily used, other commenters point to existing machines that can work with metals.

      So how many foods do you usually eat that are made from plastics or metals? How many of your bodily organs are made from plastic or metal?

      If we can somehow get through the little problem that the waste products of global capitalism are quickly changing the climate in unpredictable ways that may affect true basic feedstocks such as wheat, or water, or human beings that can survive unpredictable new epidemics, yes there may be great future for 3-D printing … though I see it being more useful for smalll business applications than true consumer use. Otherwise, I see a lot of gee-whiz fantasizing by tech-heads who are taking it FAR TOO MUCH for granted that extrapolation of current trends is assuredly inevitable. I’ve been too skeptical too long to buy it. How’s your 3-D printer gonna make water when your whole region for hundreds of miles is stricken by unprecedented drought ???

      • Ctsmith

        http://money.cnn.com/2011/01/24/technology/3D_food_printer/index.htm
        http://www.makerbot.com/blog/2011/03/08/3d-printing-an-organ-live-onstage-at-ted/
        Plastics are fine but 3d printer’s can be modified to produce different products. Diabetes is a 100 billion dollar industry, you don’t think people will pay to receive a new liver using stem cells with their own genetic code? It’s not science fiction and both things have already been done. As far as resource scarcity is concerned 3d printing produces less waste than traditional manufacturing, which means less impact on the environment. That only furthers the likelihood of the technology being successful.

        • http://www.philosophical-ron.com/ philosophical Ron

          so what feedstocks do you use to lay one molecule at a time to produce stem cells that will grow into a new liver according to your specific genetic code? Frankly, I’m not a tech-head, I’m really wondering, it is quite sci-fi.

          I’m glad you’re so confident that everything will be wonderful. As far as I’m concerned, most tech developments leave me quite underwhelmed, tiny little buttons with minds of their own controlling tiny little screens is not better. I’m still wondering how you respond to the drought that already hitting half the United States. Is Monsanto going to 3-d print 200 million tons of soybeans? If they do, I hope you buy them, I’m going to try not to touch them with proverbial poles.

    • bwrandall

      “The goal of this article was to convince the reader that the 3D printer will never become mainstream.”

      Uh, no.

      The goal of the story was to support my belief that 3D printing will never become a mass consumer market and that companies whose valuations seem to embed the certainty that a mass consumer market for 3D printing is on the way, will shortly be re-valued much lower as the difficult reality of home 3D printing sets in.

      Even if I grant you the assumption that 3D printers will ride a Moore’s Law-type declining cost curve, that’s not the hurdle. The hurdle is storing the infinite number of materials (in an infinite number of colors and characteristics) around your house to be used in the (remote) event that you need to create a drawer handle or chess piece.

      Re-read the story and read my (nearly equally long) reply to the first comment on this thread. You’ll then more clearly understand that I believe:
      1) 3D printing will change traditional commercial design, prototyping and manufacturing (and medicine and other industries) in profoundly positive ways; and
      2) Consumer 3D printing beyond a microscopic subset of craft-oriented users will never happen.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • http://www.facebook.com/akiritchun Алексей Киричун

        But you really don’t need the “infinite number of colors and characteristics” for home repair and novelty items. All you need is maybe 3 kinds of plastic with various flexibility/hardness ratios, 4 or 5 pigments and a color mixing device built into the printer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1202532628 Richard Smith

    This could be used in the jewelry industry to make prototypes without the waste of metal – it would really be neat if they could use wax instead of plastic and then someone familiar with CAD could design one of a kind piece – make the max prototype and then use the lost wax technique for casting – would definitely cut down labor costs and would make one-of-a kind jewelry based on the customers requests – I could see a huge market for this – great potential.

    • http://www.facebook.com/baleisen B Alan Eisen

      This was the example used in a talk that I attended. The instructor made a complex design in some resin. packed it in and with sand very carefully. He then made an intricate bauble out of silver using the lost medium method. Very impressive. He had bobbleheads of himself and some other people. There are potentials here.

    • bwrandall

      You’re right: great potential. But you’re writing about a commercial use. I was writing about mass adoption at the consumer level for 3D printing.

      • dionkraft

        When the price point is so cheap and made in China those 3D printers will fly off the shelf. Think something like Rolands line of scan/print machines but at one tenth the cost. I can see many in the RC hobby industry making their own parts or modding them as well. As for your comment on if Ford would allow copy of a rear quarter panel – those are copyright issues and you could print one but the point is did you sell one. Thats a different area of the legal portion of design and usage. Most of it is covered in copyright law but as always the law is always somewhat behind technology.
        As fir software – years and years ago people thought PCPAINT was hard – then came Photoshop and then 3D programs. But sooner or later the public does learn to use these proggys. You don’t need ACAD to design some nut and bolt – there are so many that are so easy to use it would be overkill. Very few are going to design some engine block but some bracket for the kitchen – yeah…

  • http://www.facebook.com/windsor.wilder Windsor Wilder

    They’ll become cheap enough for our new armed robot overlords to make their own replacement parts. After that who cares.

  • mhender668

    Your argument reminds me of a guy in 1980 wondering who would want a computer in their home, and using that as a basis not to invest in Apple or Microsoft. You no more need to be a designer to use a 3D printer than you need to be a programmer to use a computer. The application for these things is limitless, including a home version. I could sit here all day listing things they could be used for. And once the technology allows them to be of the proper size, and cost, everyone will have one. In the mean time, I have no doubt that materials will catch up.

    I agree, however (provided I understand what you’re trying to say) that the companies you mentioned may be a bit expensive, and the trick with emerging technologies is to pick the company that will make it through and become profitable. Do you buy Wang or Apple in 1986? Or TI?

    There will be such a printer in every home, and virtually everything will be manufactured using them. Our job as investors is to figure out who will cash in.

  • Shane Warne

    Obviously 3D (additive) printing has it’s purpose. But I do sort of sense that it’s overhyped. Sure it’s has it’s place in manufacturing specific parts at high end levels, but what good will it serve at low (household) levels with plastics? I don’t really see a specific purpose for it or why households will require one? And to only print little plastic models? I say just keep it at the manufacturing scale. Improve 3D printing at the manufacturing level and then people will be able to have cheaper consumable items that are still built professionally and with quality instead of building their own poor quality ones.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OVSIJ4Y7IEFIL75ZBODTTFRNIU lex

    It really all depends on the industrial feed stocks required. I can take a HP printer and rejigger it to print and roll popular cigarette brands on demand in anyone’s private space. I can’t believe HP and others have not created such a machine yet. Instead of selling cartridges of ink and having paper loaded into the HP cigarette printer roller, you would have to order feed stocks of rolling papers, loose brand name tobacco like Marlboro or something really exotic and a print and print glue cartridge. The box could even be made by the same machine and the cost per box of 20 king size cigarettes including the postage to get the feed stocks and the cost of buying and running the machine would give people a pack of cigarettes of their choice bands for something less than 50 cents a pack! The same sort of thing can be done with See’s Chocolate or Belgian varieties so long as you could order the feed stock materials. You would have to choose what you wanted to have in the machine ready to print out 3d chocolates. you can’t have all the varieties in the store unless you have a very large machine with every kind of nut, and filling required but you can order the feedstock you want for such a machine and print out almond clusters in dark chocolate from Fannie Farmers candy’s recipe if you buy that in particular have it ship and load it in to a machine . I looked in the window of a chocolate store , I think its Tashen, tonight and they were selling their chocolates form Europe for $49 for 9 ounces. Your 3 d chocolate printing machine could save you a lot of money then.
    So don’t say it aint so because if I were consultant to three d printing companies they would be taking on green mountain coffee with home cigarette rolling in 3d printing and fine chocolates. They are not barking up the wrong tree when it comes to home manufacturing of weapons either because it is the price margin to buy off the shelf verses manufacture your own that counts. Designer recreational drugs or larger scale pharma drugs can be synthesized out of relatively simple OH molecules. That is possible too legal or illegal. The first place for three d machines to get traction besides the nitch for very expensive parts for aircraft but dangerous maybe because of possible defects in the base metal etc so go and think cigarette rolling at 1000 or more per minute from a home machine and theres a long term market.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joseph.guidry.5203 Joseph Guidry

    Wow, I didn’t know you would need AutoCAD experience. I thought something like Blender which is free and has tutorials online. This seems to me an Oh no! Article. One where those that fear the power to design and create being in the hands of the population send out a lawyer to talk negative about it.

    Who knows? Perhaps something bad might come out of giving too many minds the power to use computer design tools to produce an actual device. But then again, perhaps something good also.

  • STP

    This article is way off. Comparing 3D printers to machining equipment, ie: lathes and mills, you’ll find that the average blue collar fabricator would be right at home with a 3D printer. As for inadequate material choices don’t forget people didn’t complain about the radio because they couldn’t see what was happening.

  • Stephan B. Feibish

    Yes it will go mainstream. It’s a convenience. The price will come down and instead of going to the store and purchasing an item. You’ll download a program that instructs the printer to create something. A tool perhaps. A toy. A car part. Whatever.

  • Stephan B. Feibish

    You’ll see them appear first in stores due to the costs. Auto dealerships? Modern day Kinko’s? They’ll take the place of inventory. They’ll be just in time products. Then they’ll appear in homes.

    • bwrandall

      You are quite simply high on drugs if you think that 3D Printers will “take the place of inventory.” Contemplate, if you will, the nearly infinite combination of materials that are needed to create the stock room of an auto parts store. Metal (in dozens of alloys). Glass. Ceramics. Fiberglass. Polyester resin. Lead (for batteries). LEDs. Wood (snow brushes). Rubber (tires). Paper (gaskets). I could go on.

      Since 3D printers already exist, you need to ask yourself why your vision isn’t already reality? The answer: a combination of high cost, lengthy production times, interoperability issues and a lack of design skills. Any one of these is showstopping. Together they are an insurmountable barrier. I suggest you read, at length, about the economics of manufacturing, before making such obviously ill-advised comments.

      • Stephan B. Feibish

        I envision that one day cars will be made of materials that can be printed.

  • Tarlton Parsons

    This article basically removes any doubt for me that 3D printing will absolutely become mainstream. Virtually all the objections listed are either technical barriers, complexity barriers or cost barriers. These are the aspects of technology products that universally improve with time, and at accelerating pace. The only thing that would prevent this (or any) technology product from going mainstream sooner or later, once it has been developed to the point of being mass produced, is the lack of a market. And there are clear and obvious markets for 3D printers. Hell, I’m interested in getting one myself!

    Above all that, though, is the historical performance of “futurists” who proclaimed that this or that would never amount to anything. Reminds me of McKinsey & Co telling IBM to dump the PC because it would never be more than a toy. Their objections were very similar to those above, except they even argued that the market itself did not exist. They were still wrong.

  • Bill Austin

    “But that was different, because typing was a skill already possessed by
    the majority of educated adults, and people were already comfortable
    with the process of creating documents.”

    30 years ago, no. People who could type were very unusual unless you were a typist which was a very low level position.

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.olden.1 Joe Olden

      I agree with you. I took typing class in 1975, and was one of the few boys in the class. It was mostly girls who wanted to become secretaries. Typing was a minority skill even in 1983. Typing only became popular among the majority of people once computers became popular.

  • KenL

    This article is incredibly narrow in thought and short-sighted. 20 years ago, embossing, diecutting and, really, even quality photo printing were all technologies that surpassed the market’s ability to deliver them to the consumer and consumers’ (and probably, most design professionals’) ability to use them in turn. Of course the consumer wouldn’t want something optimized for an industrial machine shop or a MSDS-required chemical storage, and in that limited way your analysis of this tech is correct – but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a massive unfilled demand for consumer applications of this technology’s children. In comparison, I point to the massive consumer market for Cricut, Sissix, Photoprinters, and other products that put all of those kinds of production means, once the sole domain of niche industrial printing companies, into the hands of the average household crafter or hobbyist for a couple of hundred dollars. The consumer potential of this product offers enormous potential for template-based home production, and one price comes down some and customization becomes user friendly enough it could explode. It could easily augment or compete with the requirement to head to a big box craft or home improvement store like Michael’s, Joann, Home Depot or Lowes for something that is kind of like what you really want, since you can simply print what you want exactly. Once 3D scanning technology emerges that is as simple as current 2D scanning to use (and, it will – look at graphic scanners and copiers on the market in the mid 1990s to what we have today as a comparison, which were invented as an alternative to the facsimile printer–using carbon!–to make copies), you will really see this go. You will see 3D printers that can replicate any shape in any material (or a visually faux version), print in minutes not hours, churn out cute figurines and fairies and flowers that match a wedding planner’s colors or a daughter’s class project, or push out a 1/4″x28x4″ bolt, or a missing cabinet knob, or a 20-off “Joe for class president” custom luau tiki mug. This is not going to succeed as a machining technology. It will succeed massively in the consumer market as an on demand production technology.

  • osaycanuthink

    yes but what use will it be….the wheel, fire, electricity, / never say never if you wish to be a seer

  • nicksc

    One thing to mention is the ability to manufacture ideas. The 3d printer will unleash creativity. A very important thing to
    comprehend! We as consumers will have are own manufacturing engine. Just try to put your mind around that thought. I will gladly plop $5000.00 on a printer and there are alot us out there. There will be looses and winners in
    this particular stock market. However that is irrelevant to me as a consumer. This river that is flowing will cut it’s path. My advice is, become aware and educate your self as much as possible so you will not be swallowed up by it!!!

  • milky1018

    They could put a laser or an engraving head on the machine and it help fabricate more things! How awesome is this.
    http://www.spectra.com

  • Gary Anderson

    If I had listened to you Barry, I would have missed out on about 80k of capital gains already this year.
    Gary Anderson
    3DStockBlog.com

  • http://www.eyestir.com/ Bill Owen

    These new fangled cell phones will never catch on.

  • dionkraft

    Unlike 3D scanners the prices for 3D printers is very reasonable if not down right CHEAP! People have always wanted to make something that was not available and also tinker to make things in their imagination. As with almost all technology no one had thought that some the price paid would get down to these unworldly low pricepoints. Its all about selling the razor blade but making money on the replacement blades. Walmart has printers (not 3D) for $29! New Latops for $300! 3D software may not be the easiest to use but then again years ago setting up your own network was a headache as well. I’m talking 80′s here with DOS! The mainstay is that things will get cheaper and they get faster. May we scan and print in interesting times.

  • ultima9

    Who needs calculators? Slide rules forever!
    (I think the author of this needs to seriously take a closer look at the technology itself, and not focus on stock reports or market analyses. There is so much potential to this tech, how could you not see that?)

  • http://3DStockBlog.com/ Gary Anderson

    Barry, with all due respect, you were calling for the top of the 3D printing stocks in January.
    I didn’t listen to you or the others, and rode the stocks up to the real top- which was put in last week.
    I alerted my subscribers to the top 3 days ago, prior to the big sell-off we’re seeing now.
    I think they’ll correct 20-30% before stabilizing now.
    http://tinyurl.com/qbhgjcj