3D Printing: speed of printing, speed of adoption and mass market

Mar 22, 2015
Writen by Diogo Quental

The recent news of a disruptive technology able to print objects 100x faster, left me with no clear reaction for some time, beyond the expectable “wow!” we all had. Too many mixed thoughts and feelings.

Now, a few days since the wow, the puzzle of ideas is slowly sorting out.

There is a fact to start with: all of us consider 3D Printing a slow process, even if it still usually is the fastest process considering other alternatives.

But does it mean that the faster the better?

Consider this:

  • would a woman prefer if a baby could be delivered in 3 days after conception instead of 9 months?
  • would people prefer if meals could take about 20 seconds, and not 30 min or more?
  • would travellers prefer to be transferred immediately from their origin to their destination instead of having the trip?

And a last question:

  • would people prefer to live a condensed life, with all good and bad things, of one year instead of up to 100 years or more?

Well, I guess it’s clear. Most of what we value, most of what makes us happy, is the process, not the result. And so many some great things in life are all about the process and we don’t even think about the result… like singing or dancing!

I am convinced that what makes 3D Printing popular is a lot related with the magic of creation. The time of watching our object being created, slowly, even really slowly, may be needed for emotions to be associated with 3D Printing, thus helping our minds to understand, accept and promote the power of this technology.

For mass market adoption, the paradigm change is key. And because emotionless changes tend not to be sustainable, I would say the fastest speed is not necessarily the best speed for mass adoption.

This could somehow sound as a criticism to the leap forward allowed by the new process, but it’s not. In fact, it may very well be the missing piece of the puzzle to ensure the beautiful Gartner’s curve will, once again, prove right and within 5 to 10 years all of us will own a 3D printer.

Why is that?

No company would invest $40M in a $200M consumer market, even if growing exponentially. The risk of having the disruptive technology becoming obsolete before offsetting the R&D investment would be too high. Only a critical mass of users can finance an R&D expensive disruptive technology (so much so that we still have to use petrol in our cars…).

The new technology will, therefore, only target the industrial market, where the great effects are still hard to imagine.

But will consumer market mass adoption be affected somehow?

I trust it will, but not the way most people would expect.

With a few exceptions, the 3D Printing arena is flooded with ambitious start-ups, who eagerly promote open source solutions and genuinely want to contribute to a better world. Just like the Gauls, the famous comics by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, the fear is that the sky will fall on them, i.e., all the big players that are lining up to enter the market.

Now, think about it. What big player will want to enter the market when there is such a big gap between industrial market and consumer market technology? They won’t be interested in entering with an existing slow technology, because they cannot control the tech transition from the industry to consumer. They won’t be interested in coming up with a new disruptive technology because there is no critical mass to pay for it. It won’t be a rational decision for them to enter the market because, given the difference in sizes, they have much more to lose than to win.

So the new disruptive technology will cause big players to wait and see, giving room for small players to keep investing their money, time and sweat in changing the paradigm, with their open source solutions that will keep pushing down printer prices.

So dance! Mass market will be a reality and you shall not wait for big players to order your printer!