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Observations in 3D

Jason Evanish's 3D Printing Newsletter

Another week, another 3D printer hits Kickstarter...and it funds in a week! A combination "Scan, Print, Copy, and Fax" printer also funded with weeks to go. Volumental, a 3D scanner we mentioned last newsletter also closed it's funding period successfully raising over $27,000. 

What you'll find in this edition:
1) Interesting Recent News in 3D Printing
2) Observations from Jason
3) Cool Company to Check Out

If you know me, then you know I *love* feedback, so whether you agree or want to counter any of my thoughts or just want to give advice on how to make this better, please feel free to reply to this newsletter anytime.

Thanks,
Jason @Evanish

1) Interesting News in 3D Printing



Shapeways Lifts the Curtain on Their Business
  • The story: One of the biggest successes in the Consumer 3D printing industry thus far has been Shapeways. They have an ever-increasing number of materials and object types they will print and mail to you anywhere in the world. In this video, Reddit founder, and NYC Tech Scene fanboy Alexis Ohanian tours their facility.
     
  • My thoughts: The in depth tour shows how the company struggles to leverage massive Industrial 3D printers they own. I was surprised to see the room full of employees that manually place objects to maximize the number of objects they can print at once (as opposed to writing code to do it) as well as how long a delay they have to actually send a print out (2-3 weeks). This is a reminder of how early we still are in this market and how far we have to go.
  • Based on the comments by the community manager, the use cases for their printers are definitely focused on the mass customization movement as people order memes, custom rings and one-off designs.
     
  • Further Reading: See this shorter, design-centered video from De Zeen.


3D Printing and Medicine: A Perfect Fit
  • The Story: The number of medical applications for 3D printers has exploded. From the simple improvement of the smelly, itchy plaster cast, to organs (like ears, kidneys, and skin) and many prosthetics that are now for both a better fit and styleThere's even experimentation on replacing skull pieces using 3D printers in China and a simple, yet brilliant innovation for managing 3rd world immunizations
     
  • My Thoughts: Like many of the latest reported 3D innovations, there is definitely a gap between what's reported and what you'll see in your local doctor's office or hospital in the near future. At the same time, some are here. Many dentists have already replaced impressions with 3D scanning for getting a mold of your teeth. You'll also find many of the prosthetic innovation coming from those with prosthetics which are often costly and uncomfortable.
     
  • More thoughts: With rising costs of health care, 3D printing is a welcome addition to the cost equation as, at scale, it represents a dramatically decreased cost of treatment. That promise alone should drive continued funding of research, but it will also be aided by the military; the health care budget is significantly and unique challenges for soldiers helps push the development of new treatments. World War I led to the invention of much of modern plastic surgery and I expect today's battlefield to lead to innovations in prosthetics and beyond.

2) Observations from Jason



Is a Kickstarter Hangover coming? 


It's inspiring and awesome to see how Kickstarter has become a key distribution platform for 3D printers and supporting products. Half of the 75 3D related projects posted to Kickstarter have funded and there have been 3 projects raise over $1 million in the last 6 months.  After speaking with many of them, I wrote a piece last week on the relationship between 3D printing and Kickstarter.  However, this does create a few concerns.
  1. Delivery: Many users are going to get their printers 6 months to a year after they order it. This slows the adoption rate of the industry as people tie up funds they'd invest in 3D printing for something they can't use immediately.
  2. Technology: While users wait to receive their printers, the technology is evolving and improving. Will someone who bought a RepRap style, assemble-yourself printer be happy with it when they see others buying printers as theirs arrives and it the other printer has more advanced features like dual-extrusion, out-of-the-box functionality and has a significantly larger build size?
  3. Disappointment: There is something truly magical about watching an object be built right in front of your eyes. Many of the videos on Kickstarter do a great job of highlighting this and the great story behind whomever is making the product. Unfortunately, when you actually get your printer, getting the magic to work for yourself isn't always easy.
I wonder if these issues will lead to buyer's remorse and Kickstarter growing to become a less desirable platform for 3D printer buyers. For now, I expect it to continue to be the best way to source your first buyers for your 3D printing product and you may even see companies do second campaigns for next generation printers.

I suspect that a shift away from Kickstarter will occur as there is an industry shake out and consolidation; there are over 300 3D printing companies now and so there's no way they will all survive. As they consolidate, user bases will also, lending itself to sales and marketing being done by each company without the need of Kickstarter (or their 5% cut).




Will IP Lock up the 3D printing market, stalling innovation?

As I've talked to various 3D printing founders, I've noticed a growing trend of filing patents and creating closed ecosystems. Given the roots in the open source RepRap movement that all these printers build off of and were sparked by patents expiring, this is disappointing to hear. The question exists then why get the patents? There's a few possible explanations:
  1. Defense: Stratysys and 3D Systems control 70-80% of the market on the industrial side of the market and are a large reason why the 3D printing movement took this long to reach consumers (they weren't motivated to innovate). If these companies are merely getting their patents to protect themselves from giants coming after them, then it's a bit more understandable.
  2. Valuation:  Investors feel more comfortable when a company and their idea is defensible. Therefore, patents can be a viable strategy both to help with any fundraising and also to secure an exit; IP alone can be enough to create a liquidity event or boost the acquisition amount significantly. Just look at how much Nokia got for licensing its patents to Microsoft.
  3. Offense: IP can be a powerful deterrent to competition. Being sued out of existence has happened to many companies and is a large part of what kept the 3D printing duopoly going for Stratsys and 3D Systems for so many years. Hopefully there won't be any startup on startup crime in this area, as in other instances I've seen this mortally wound both companies in the process.
Competition breeds innovation. It is the chase to out-sell, out-market, and out-innovate that drives companies to blaze a trail to the future. If the 3D market is stalled out by costly lawsuits and patents that prevent competition, everyone loses out on a transformative market. 

For the 3D Printing founders on this list and any others with a passion or interest on the subject, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue.  Just reply to this newsletter and we can talk on or off the record.


3) Cool Company to Check Out

There is an amazing amount of activity right now in the 3D printing world, so I want to make sure that in each edition of this newsletter I let you know about some of the very best ones.

  

DGlass3D: Dual Extruder Kickstarter Campaign

One of the big innovations that will help the 3D printing movement grow is being able to print more than one material at a time. This is made possible for FDM printers by adding more than one extruder. That usually forces the printer to be larger and have a smaller print area, because both extruders have to be able to reach every print coordinate. These issues are solved with the DGlass3D extruder, as you have 2 extruders in the space usually consumed by 1 extruder.

Thanks to the RepRap movement, their extruders should work with most 3D printers. 

This company was started by two brothers who are experienced engineers and now have 10 days left in their Kickstarter campaign. Have a printer and want dual extrusion? Support them!


Closing

Here's a couple other links to check out:
  • If you're in the Bay Area, don't miss the Inside 3D Printing Conference coming to San Jose on September 17th and 18th. You can use my discount code, "JE15" to save 15% on your ticket.
If you loved this newsletter, please reply and let me know, and don't be afraid to share the subscriber link with others interested in the 3D printing industry or working at a company in the industry: http://bit.ly/Observe3D
Copyright © 2013 Jason Evanish, All rights reserved.


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