Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And then there were more...

The 3D Printing Industry has seen a lot of activity over the past few years with many new technologies entering the market ( many of which are clones of existing technologies due to expiry of patents ) leading to a great amount of confusion in the minds of a potential buyer. However, the emergence of low cost printers has given the average engineer to experience 3D printing in real time but it is high time, the products have to be consolidated to give the customer some clarity on which products to buy. Mergers & acquisitions have been in the limelight with 3D Systems & Stratasys going on a buying spree with 3D Systems acquiring ZCorp, RapMan, Cube etc & Stratasys acquiring Solidscape & Objet ( although with Objet its more of a stock swap & merger). However, my point is that these acquisitions have created somewhat of a redundancy in the product lines of these companies which has to be consolidated. For eg : A customer who wants to print average quality models would think ten times to go for an expensive printer given the choice of low cost printers like rapman by the same company. Also, a prototype need not be of a specific material ( most of the times ), hence the confusion increases further since there has been a plethora of multi material low cost printers in the market. I would recommend a market specific approach where products such as rapman, botmill etc are consolidated first with limited options catering to specific markets. Also, i see a lot of redudancy in development projects where technologies which are available in the market ( For eg : Digital Light Projection (DLP), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)) are re-engineered thus leading to products which are redundant & also back to their initial phases. The best they can do is provide an inferior version of the printer at a lower cost thereby creating a threat to the existing business who have perfected their technology.

The entire manufacturing industry needs solutions for making direct parts from additive manufacturing. This requires  companies spending resources on research to perfect the existing technologies rather than offering products with inferior quality & cheaper price. These require significant amount of core research since most of the printers available now cannot produce direct parts & if they can they can't do it economically.

Having said that, I feel the day is not far where we start producing end products directly from CAD models economically & quickly by using additive manufacturing.