If you want to start 3D printing business and look for some basic informations, you may get a little dissapointed… When you read mainstream media commentary today or visit huge social media websites like Quora, you find out, that the common perception of 3D printing is that this technology is over – a few years ago it had its big five minutes that it didn’t take advantage of. 3D printers were to stand in every home and print everything that the user imagined – household items, spare parts, gadgets, toys, tools and so on… Nothing came of this – 3D printers turned out to be too difficult to operate for a mass customers and the quality of prints was poor and unsatisfactory.
Does this really mean that 3D printing is over? Nothing further from the truth! In a matter of fact, 3D printing market is in better shape than ever, and each and every year it overperforms. It is simply happening in different areas than what the mainstream media is following. So why 3D printers are considered as a failure? How all this happened? Here’s brief historical overview – read it to learn how to start own 3D printing business?
3D printing as a concept was created in the 1960s, and for the next several years it was undertaken by many scientists and researchers. In the early 1980s, Japanese Hideo Kodama and French Alan Herbert among others applied for patents for the first additive manufacturing methods but they were unsuccessful because of various of reasons. It was until August 1984 when American Charles Hull has filed his own patent for a technology called stereolithography. The patent was granted two years later, and Hull founded 3D Systems – the world’s first additive machines manufacturing company – known today as 3D printers. Year 1984 is considered the official birth of 3D printing technology.
In the following years all 3D printing technologies known today were created: FDM, DLP, PolyJet, SLS, metal 3D printing, binder jetting and many others. All major companies were founded: Stratasys, EOS, Materialise, Objet or EnvisionTEC.
For nearly 20 years, 3D printers have been used by a very small group of specialists from many different industries: automotive, aviation, medicine, industrial manufacturing or energy. There were two reasons for this: the machines were still quite complex to operate, and their price was gigantic. In addition, technological development was hindered by patents – a given technology could only be developed by one company that invented it.
Everything started to change after 2004, when British university lecturer Dr. Adrian Bowyer started work on the open-source, self-replicating 3D printer called The RepRap Project. When the patent for the FDM technology expired in 2007, the first amateur 3D printers of this type, based on the Bowyer project, began to be spread dynamically around the world.
In 2009, the first two companies producing such devices were established – the American MakerBot Industries and the British Bits From Bytes. 3D printers began to break into the mainstream more and more often. In 2011 MakerBot – which meanwhile was taken over by Stratasys and 3D Systems, which took over BitsFromBytes, launched a global marketing campaign, trying to convince the world that desktop 3D printers will be installed in every home making everything possible to make by each customer. This trend was taken up by hundreds of startups that massively produced cheap desktop 3D printers, applications to support them, web libraries with 3D models, 3D printing materials, 3D printing services, online platforms, and so on, and so on…
Their market debut had such companies as Formlabs, Ultimaker, colorFabb, PRUSA Research, Sinterit, Zortrax, Zmorph, 3DHubs, BCN3D, Raise3D, and a lot of others, that no longer exist (such as Solidoodle or Printrbot). It all pumped up a huge speculative bubble on the stock exchanges. Shares of the companies listed there broke records. Venture Capitals and private investors were pouring money into more and more companies producing more the same looking 3D printers. On Kickstarter, a new crowdfunding campaign was launched each month to promote another exactly the same looking and operating 3D printers.
Until the bubble burst and the market had its correction…
It turned out that the “3D printer in every home” concept would not succeed – certainly not in this way. Plastic or resin 3D printers turned out to be too difficult to handle by ordinary people and the quality of the prints was too low to meet their expectations. The slogan: print everything you dream of – turned out to be a big lie…
And this is the main reason why many people view 3D printing as a failure. They are disappointed and feel cheated. They were promised a super device capable of making everything, which turned out to be an ordinary, yet hard to operate tool with many limitations.
However, in the meantime, it turned out that there are a lot of people in the world who feel perfectly fine with all the 3D printing flaws. Technical limitations not bother them – solving them makes working with them even more exciting. Designers, hobbyists, amateurs of new technologies, hardware geeks – these people discovered all the new opportunities in 3D printers that just a few years ago everyone ignored.
PRUSA Research – creator of Prusa i3 – the most popular 3D printer design of all time , has become one of the largest manufacturers in the world, offering kits for self-assembly of simple, cheap, but extremely reliable devices. At the same time, world markets have been flooded with super cheap Chinese 3D printers. Their purchase turned out to be simple, and nobody had a problem to risk a $200-300 purchase. Today, hundreds of thousands of people use cheap 3D printers every day. In fact, 3D printers went to homes – but very specific people who know exactly what they want and what to expect.
In parallel with the boom in amateur 3D printing, the market for professional 3D printers is also growing at an amazing pace. Over the past few years, giants such as GE, HP, BASF, Mitsubishi Chemical have entered the industry, and develop their own 3D printing technologies or 3D printing materials. 3D printing is present everywhere and every manufacturing sector benefits from it. Both prototypes and final parts are created on 3D printers. 3D printing is no longer a technological curiosity, but is gradually becoming an important part of the production and logistics chain.
3D printing will never replace other production methods – it is becoming their equal complement.