Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The problem with 3D printing.

I was at a 3D printing conference today. I've been one of the biggest evangelists of this technology for about 10 years. However, I'm finding it harder and harder to figure out how this filters out to the larger public. Maybe it never does. Which I'm still having a hard time believing.

In the beginning you always expect new things to be expensive, but wealthier people buy those products which brings the price down. But I think 3D printing has a bigger problem now. And it's not the cost of the machines. It's the cost of the filament or resin they use. Depending on which type of 3D printer you have.

I think they see printer ink and think - we are going to stay competitive with that. The problem is - all of us are pissed at how much printer ink costs. Honestly. And really the only time you use ink these days is when you are doing your taxes. Then all of a sudden you need to go out and buy 50 bucks with the ink. It pisses us all off! It's part of the reason why HP is dying. IMO.

The filament for these machines usually costs about 50 bucks a spool. For one color. If you have a printer that does two colors, you are at 100 bucks right out of the gate. I think the price of the machines will come down once they all consolidate. Which I think is already happening. The stocks of most of the major 3D printer companies have been caved out for a while now. Makerbot is laying off people even thought it got acquired by Stratasys. It looks pretty bloody in this sector. I think there were just way too many different types of printers for a while. And then no one company could make that big of an inroads.

I used to think the Fabs would buy enough of these machines to bring the costs of the machines and filament down. But that doesn't seem to be happening yet. This technology is already 30 years old. It's one of the longest product cycles I've ever seen! It has such great promise, but it's still just too expensive to justify. Still.

Also, you can kinda tell the sector has stalled because a lot of them are pitching these figurines of people they have scanned. They have been doing that for a while now. How many of those can you sell?


  1. The cost of the filament won't be an issue. We use a wide format printer and it's $80 per cartridge. The beast takes 6 different cartridges. We spend more on ink than we do paper, but the end result is worth every penny spent. At the end of the day, you have to look at what businesses are willing to spend on the technology because they're the ones that will drive it. When we can print parts for a few bucks, that add hundreds of dollars to the value of our games, it makes it easy to keep on buying filament even if it's a ripoff. I think that we could also see some innovation to help this area. I know I've seen a couple of companies introduce printers where you can use recycled plastic for the material. DF

  2. You are probably right. I just start getting nervous about a sector that looks stalled and their stock prices are caved. I think I blogged about people who make filament with recycled plastic a while back. But I haven't seen any of them lately so I wasn't sure any of them made it. I just think there is going to be some pain until they narrow down the types of printers.

    So did you buy one yet, or are you still farming that out?

  3. We outsource it but will need to buy one when we start renting pins. The problem right now is an educational one. People can't figure out the software to repro anything. The shop we go to has about a doxen printers and they just print fulltime. The guy who can repro things charges $100 an hour the guy who actually runs the printer is probably only making $10. DF

  4. Yeah. That has sort of been the problem all along. The legacy everyone should have been learning from Steve Jobs is make is simple enough even a baby can use it. Literally when I worked at Apple there were early videos of babies using computers. Way back in the day.

    Some people can't understand the software. Some people just want to make something simple and don't want to learn it.

    I'm guessing knowing the software isn't the magic bullet because even the amount of printing fabs is much smaller than it was even a year ago. I'm guessing a lot of them are struggling.