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January 2015

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The State of 3D Printing 2015

by Glen Emerson Morris
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2014 was an eventful year in the evolution of 3D printing. 3D printer sales soared to $75 million, Radio Shack and some Home Depots started selling 3D printers and supplies, even the International Space Station got a 3D printer, but the biggest news of all was that HP entered the 3D printer market, not with a bang, but a boom.

Here's a look at the headlines in depth.

Market Growth
An article in Computerworld estimated that current 3D printer sales of $75 million dollars this year will likely increase to $1.2 billion by 2018, and $12 billion by 2024. These are very interesting numbers when you consider that the $1.2 billion estimated to be spent in 2018 will be for 3D printers that will vastly outperform current models for a fraction of the current cost.

Going mainstream
In 2014, the 3D buying experience changed. Early buyers of 3D printers were likely, sometimes even lucky, to get a 3D printer in a plain brown box with crumpled newspapers for packing materials. This year, 3D printer boxes were more likely to be full color, with professional packaging and a printed manual.

Once mail order only, these days 3D printing supplies are only as far away as your nearest Radio Shack, and Home Depot will be selling MakerBot 3D printers in a pilot program in some markets.

Manufacturing industry use up
According to a recent industry survey, 80% of the 100 top manufacturers are using 3D printing to some degree. Increasingly, the objects being printed are finished goods, not prototypes. Airbus made parts of the A380 with 3D printers, creating parts that were substantially lighter than parts made by conventional manufacturing methods.

HP enters the market
On October 29, 2014 HP announced they were entering the 3D printer market with systems expected to be priced somewhere between $150,000 and $500,000, which is a common price range for pro 3D printers. HP promises that its new 3D printers will support full color printing. Though expensive, the speed of the HP printers may justify the expense (though, for a while, it will be better to rent than to own).

HP promises the printers will be 10 times faster and half the cost of current professional 3D printers. The HP 3D printer achieves this performance level by using 10,000 print heads to provide a massive parallel printing capacity of 350,000 drops per second. Considering that nearly all 3D printers have less that a dozen print heads, HP's 3D printer is a major breakthrough. If HP can truly deliver what they promise, they will completely rewrite the cost economics of 3D printing.

HP's plan is ambitious, but they have a good chance of pulling it off. HP has R&D capability vastly beyond that of any of the major 3D printer manufacturers. More importantly, HP's strategy on 3D printers is complex and well thought out. HP isn't just selling a printer, it's creating an entire 3D printer ecosphere. Most importantly, they're going to be creating a framework to allow and encourage third parties to develop, make and sell a wide variety of printing materials for HP printers. This will keep prices competitive and assure the development of new materials, and this is a key point.

The major concern many people have about HP 3D printing effort is whether HP can escape a well-earned reputation for price gouging customers locked into its proprietary printing systems. In the case of 3D printing, HP could potentially have even more leverage that it had with 2D printing. 3D printing requires two potentially high priced materials; the actual material, and ink. HP would be in a position to make printers that could only use HP 3D material and HP ink.

HP's approach manages that issue very well. HP is not only promising competition when it comes to pricing, it's depending on it. HP is committed to making the money off the printers themselves, and the commissions it will make marketing third party materials and ink. And HP won't have the market to themselves long.

It will only be a matter of time before there are other 3D printers on the market with comparable speed able to use open source or commercial third party made ink and materials that are far cheaper and varied than HP supplies.

However, with or without competition, the HP 3D printers will have a major effect on the 3D printing industry, It's good to see HP beginning to resemble the innovator it was once. In 1985 HP marketed the first successful laser printer, launching desktop publishing and digital media as we know it. After that, the company slowly devolved over three decades to spending most of their R&D budget on ways to keep HP printer owners from using refillable cartridges. It looks like things are changing at HP.

Launching a 3D printer line is a brilliant move and it's likely to make HP relevant to the advertising and media industries for the first time in nearly 30 years. Let's hope they can deliver on their promises. Not everyone can.

The big “no show” of 2014
Probably 2014's biggest no show 3D printer was the ChefJet from 3D systems. It was announced in January 2014 with a ship date in the 3rd or 4th quarter, but has been delayed, but it's still on the way.

The ChefJet is a rather unusual printer as it's designed to print edible objects made out of sugar. The basic ChefJet will go for $5000, and the ChefJet Pro, capable of full color printing, will go for $10,000.

Though likely to be seen as a novelty device at current prices, the ChefJet still has immediate applications for advertising & promotional. For instance, it will be possible to print candy in the shape of 3D logos, or print photographs on the surface of sugar cubes. It will even possible to print complex, elaborate and colorful geometric objects.

The price will inevitably come down, and within a few short years every major grocery department with a pastry department will have one, and Items like birthday cakes will be offered with customized artwork never seen before.

This year will be bigger
Until the last few years the 3D printer has evolved at a nearly geologic pace. My first article on 3D printing ran in 2001, and it was a couple of years before enough had happened in the 3D printing industry to rate another column. These days, I could write a weekly column and not cover every newsworthy event or development I 3D printing and robotics, so stay tuned, 2015 should be far more interesting than 2014.

Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law.
He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.

Copyright 1994 - 2014 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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