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Is consumer 3D printing overhyped?

If you’ve been keeping up with recent stories in the news, it seems that the prevailing opinion is that consumer 3D printing is overhyped. True? Or not? I think it is now a good time to share some of my ideas.

Just yesterday the news broke that Avi Reichental, 3D Systems’ CEO, is departing. In the article questions are raised about the market viability of consumer 3D printing.

In my opinion, the big problem is that consumer 3D printing all too often is confused with home printing or desktop printers like MakerBot, Formlabs and Ultimaker. Those machines are really cool and are a great tool for makers to make things at home. According to industry experts however these machines are not going into homes, but companies and schools. Desktop printers are not the only way for consumers to engage with 3D printing. This is the reason why I founded Shapeways in 2007 – to create a service enabling anyone to make great products. Not only in Plastics, but in Metal, Precious Metals, and very recently Porcelain.

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Despite the obvious problems of public companies losing a lot of share value, perhaps partially driven by the lack of consumer adoption of desktop printers, I think the fact is missed that it is very likely that consumers do not (only) want their own desktop printer, but perhaps find a service more enticing. The difference is that we can offer customers access to state of the art, industrial 3D printers and it is exactly there where just over the last year very exciting news has emerged.

HP announced last year their new 3D printer which is 10x faster and substantially more affordable to run. The 10x speed improvement will enable the making of the product on the same or next day as the order was placed. It also will eventually offer full color plastic printing. This will offer a degree of creativity not seen before and we know there is a huge demand as more than 50% of the products we manufacture every month are ordered in plastic.

Even more recently DeskTop Metal has announced a new Metal printer again promising big improvements in speed and cost.

Next to the improvements in the industrial printers which users of Shapeways have direct access to, our platform offers pretty amazing consumer-friendly 3D tools to help designers understand what is printable.

For consumers who do not know how to design, there are also multiple options. You can select products from an almost infinite amount on our marketplace and we very recently also launched CustomMaker enabling anyone to have a say in design and customize the products on the marketplace.

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Over the years, Shapeways has become the home of more than 700,000 makers and designers. More than 150,000 products are uploaded to our platform every month and we print more than 200,000 products in more than 50 materials. These are numbers that have grown quickly and will continue to grow. The short of it is that I think that there are a lot of reasons to support the assumption that consumer 3D printing is very real. But perhaps we have been looking at the wrong solution to enable it. It’s about having access to this amazing technology – not owning it in your home. The Shapeways platform has been growing very quickly and more and more people are discovering it does exactly what they want: Making it possible to get amazing products.

About me
CEO / Co-founder Shapeways
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