So Replicator isn’t very excited about HP and Stratsys making nice nice and announcing that they’re joining forces to bring 3D printing to a desktop near you. I gotta say that I’m more inclined to agree with Joris Peels over at Shapeways. I think this that is HUGE. 3D printing represents our chance to move away from a world of asian mass production where a product run has to be 50,000 or more just to justify the cost of the injection molds. It allows for on-the-fly customization and production quality one-offs. It is our future: as long as we don’t let it get passed by.
HP gets into the coffee maker business
This technology is great. Anyone who sees something that has been 3D printed is impressed, sometimes even after they’ve heard how much it cost. It helps that, as an ambassader to 3D printing, I wear a printed stainless steel ring. That’s technology that is beyond what people imagine is possible. Then I tell them it cost me less than $7 to have made. Great. Cool. Except that the costs need to keep coming down and there is only one way for that to happen: more 3D printers and more 3D printing. While 3D printed parts don’t benefit from the efficiencies of scale, like mass-produced objects do, the printers do. They are made in a factory. The more that are made, the cheaper they are to make. The more that get sold, the cheaper they will become. I remember my families first Apple ][e computer. It cost something like $2500 in 1986. It didn’t have enough RAM to be able to copy a floppy in one swap. My cell phone blows it away. This is because people kept buying computers.
Replicator points out that Desktop Factory gave the industry a little PR boost and then fizzled. This is supposedly the same effect that HP will have. Except that this isn’t how it will go down. Raise your hand if you had heard of Desktop Factory before their big announcement. “Reading this blog is supposed to be passive,” you say, “what’s with making me raise my hand?” You and I both know you didn’t have to, so quit complaining. In fact, you probably hadn’t even heard of Desktop Factory until I just told you they existed and died. I won’t make you actually move, so we’ll assume you’ve heard of HP. HP has a huge customer base who up until two days ago hadn’t heard of 3D printing. Now they have. Without doing anything more, the industry has already been affected by this partnership. There are now a lot more potential customers for 3D printing. Not just for the printers, but for services that do all the work. Done.
Another point on Replicator is that HP will become attracted to the technologies of Stratasys’ competitors and the partnership won’t last. Who cares if HP becomes fickle? Let every 3D printer company try to be her date to the ball. As long as there is a company as big as HP (and who needs to find a new niche as badly as HP does) pushing this stuff, everyone wins. Every company that sells 3D printers, whether they’re getting the attention from HP or they’re HP’s most recent cast-off, will see more sales. Heck, HP may even make multiple arrangements (I’m not going to take the analogy there) with multiple companies for different technologies. All that matters is that the public knows what 3D printing is and that it is actually available to them. Everyone wins. In the comments on his post on Shapeways, Joris mentions that tomorrow he will compare this to the pizza industry. I will leave it to him to explain, but he’s dead on. So check out his blog tomorrow (I’ll add a link once he’s written it) and this thought will be better developed.
So how does this work out well for ‘jerks’ like me. Well, hopefully we can use ‘jerk’ like it used to be used. You know, a soda jerk? That was a person who sold soda. I sell 3D design. I can deliver a file or an object. Either way, with a greater public knowledge of 3D printing and even with a proliferation of desktop printers, I will have more work designing things for people. So either I’ll be a design jerk for selling designs or I’ll be a jerk because I’ll be in demand enough that I don’t have to be nice. Either way, HP + Stratasys is awesome for me and other designers like me.
NOTE: I also see this as being HUGE for the open source 3D printer groups like Makerbot and RepRap. I also think that these companies are really where the desktop printer industry will grow from, but I’m an Open Design kind of guy.