I’ve been thinking about 3D printing a lot recently and have a few comments on the sector as a whole. I’m sure I’ll revisit this again at some point, but here are the first things that come to my mind as I write this:
- Eventually a 3D manufacturing renaissance is coming and it will be massively beneficial to the entire manufacturing industry due to rapid prototyping as well as a ton of other factors.
- The company that can show meaningful use in custom printed goods, or that can generate enough scale will be the winner of the first stage of the commercialization of 3D printing.
- There will not be any large scale adoption of consumer-aimed 3D printers like Makerbot hopes for in the next 10 years. That is not to say they won’t be successful and I don’t want one, but your average consumer won’t have the constant need for one.
- A large scale adoption could occur in the form of made-to-order 3D printing by a third party. People use Kinkos for print jobs, and I believe a model for 3D printing follows this.
- In addition to the Kinkos model, the online ordering and tweaking model of custom built 3D products is one that I think Amazon.com could benefit from. Already we see 3D printed objects show up on Etsy and Amazon could corner this market with their already built-out warehouses filled with high-speed 3D printers. Pair this with an acquisition of Shapeways and they are in business.
- 3D printing food scares me, but a lot of people have concerns about future food shortage so I guess it’s time to start thinking about that.
- 3D printing guns scares me even more. Hopefully there will be some sort of regulation around this in the future, but I think if somebody wants to do it badly enough, they will be able to. People can make flamethrowers with household supplies these days, so hopefully the same thing that stops people from going on torching rampages will stop them from going on shooting sprees.
- Pirating concerns are real, but I’m all for innovation and figuring out the details later in this regard.
- Due to these concerns, investing in this space is tough. The safest investment play seems to be on the service side but even then, the time horizon has to be longer for anyone more than seed investors and VCs to get in at this point. (i.e. typical PE shops won’t see the deal size they want to bother yet.)
To read more about recent developments in 3D printing check out these articles: