Sensationalism and Snobbery in the 3D Printing Industry!
I read with interest Rachel Park’s editorial comment last week on, ‘Sensationalism in 3D printing’. I must admit it did give me pause for thought!
As we have seen the number of 3D printing manufacturers grow year on year it certainly becomes more challenging to stand out! Go to any 3D printing focused tradeshow and you soon realise the marketing spectacle that these events have become. Big budgets help to create presence but sensational tag lines equally so!
As a marketer Rachel certainly made me examine my conscience.
Bless me Rachel, have I sinned?
All I know is from day one at Mcor my marketing has been very firmly driven by the inventors/engineers of our SDL technology – I have worked closely with them and they were always very firm about what I could say and shouldn’t say. They always steered me away from hyperbolic vocabulary and kept me close to the engineering script. In a way because we are marketing a ‘paper’ based 3D printing technology this in itself keeps us honest. People have a reference point for paper and an expectation of what it will look and feel like. They are often wrong! We try to be as definitive and honest as possible about the merits of paper and the applications it is suitable for. If you want high resolution colour that is low cost, safe and eco-friendly well you have come to the right manufacturer. Sensationalism leads to disappointment and disappointment leads to a loss of credibility.
‘Snobbery in 3D Printing’?
So adding to Rachel’s thoughts on Sensationalism in 3D Printing I would suggest that we are also seeing a growing amount of ‘Snobbery’ in the 3D printing industry! You might well ask what I mean by ‘Snobbery in 3D Printing’?
As you know in the past 5 years we have been on a rollercoaster ride during which we have seen 3D printing hit the heights of the hype and the depths of disillusionment. There was a time when if the printer did not fit on a desktop and extruded plastic then it just was not relevant. Industry analysts were bullish on the adoption of the technology; we were fed a future with a 3D printer in every home and major retailers began selling them online and in stores.
Fast forward to today and we see the industry swing in completely the opposite direction – if it’s not 3D printing for production and direct manufacturing then the analysts, investment community and media are not as interested! If it is not 3D printing a part of a jet engine, then it’s not worthy! The prototyping market is now the poor relation in the industry despite the fact that it is growing at a CAGR of 29% and to a predicted value of $12 billion by 2020 according to Wohlers. Is this not worthy? This is what I call the snobbery in the 3D printing industry!
Along with this snobbery we have a form of sensationalism – ‘3D printing and Additive Manufacturing will replace traditional manufacturing!’ I see this as short term hype. The fact is less than 7 percent of U.S. manufacturers use 3D printing for end-use production. Other manufacturing methods are still the most cost-effective process for large volumes of end-use parts. So, while the potential is there and it’s growing, we still have a long way to go before we can truly expect industrial 3D printing to transform manufacturing as we know it. Not saying it won’t happen but not next week or next month or next year! Unfortunately our industry becomes again guilty of over promising and under-delivering …..in the short term.
Still a Long Way to Go
Clearly, the future is bright for 3D printing in the industrial space. Suffice to say 3D printing car parts in the future for example, will be as easy and fast as printing on your 2D printer, saving time in development and millions of dollars. But for now we need to get more focused on what we can do now and the rest will come. There is plenty of scope for development right across the board in 3D printing – from transforming design processes to fully utilising functional prototypes.
No room for Sensationalism and Snobbery
Rachel, I agree wholeheartedly that there is no room for ‘Sensationalism’ in our industry and I believe equally that there is no room for ‘Snobbery’. The possibilities for 3D printing are exciting and if the industry continues to push the envelope we can get there but let’s not get ourselves a bad reputation in the meantime!