In the last few days, 3D Systems lost over 15% of its value. Additionally, Stratasys Inc. shares fell around 5%. According to Shapeways’ Peter Weijmarshausen, “We’re still living in a bubble a little bit.” Has 3D printing reached it’s industrial potential already? Where is the consumer boost?
The 3D sector has been an interesting group to watch in the market as of late (companies in the sector include 3D Systems, Stratasys, Dassault Systemes, and Autodesk, among others). It should be noted that market weaknesses in China, the recession in Europe, and the ongoing economic crisis in North America could collaboratively be catching up and becoming a more destructive force than previously anticipated, but we’re still on the brink of a 3D printing explosion. “It’s incredible to see how the awareness of 3D printing has increased,” said Peter Weijmarshausen of Shapeways at the recent Techonomy conference, adding that five years ago the term was niche at best. “[But] we’re still living in a bubble a little bit.” But what does that bubble mean?
Peter’s bubble theory is in regards to the fact that the average person doesn’t necessarily know or care how 3D printing applies to them. Sure it may be useful for designers, engineers, medical professionals, and Hollywood, but that’s a truly industrial niche. According to Peter, it becomes difficult to relay how important and useful the technology is for the consumer, when the consumer doesn’t even understand it yet. So how can we communicate to consumers the capabilities that a 3D printer can bring to their home, besides the obvious toys, jewelry, and experimental applications?
At the same Techonomy conference, Ping Fu of GeoMagic recounted a story in which an employee of her company broke his arm on the way to work. Instead of going to the emergency room, the mathematics whiz showed up at work and used an on-site Xbox Kinect System to scan his injured limb. The scan data was given to one of Geomagic’s designers who literally on the spot designed and 3D printed his coworker a custom cast. Could this single example of how 3D printing can in some cases cut out the middleman and added costs of certain goods and services be reason enough for there to be a 3D printer in homes…already…..now?
(feature image via Shapeways)