“3D Printing Is Revolutionizing Manufacturing—Literally Right Now!” A statement I completely agree with from Forbes’ recent article “This Sector Is Like Buying Apple Or Microsoft In 2002.”
However, I disagree on one key point suggested in the article which encourages investments in “3D printing.”
Why? There is a key lesson from the dot com era that is relevant to what is going on in the 3D printing industry: do not jump too high, before there is critical mass and a proper infrastructure in place.
During the dot com era, people were investing in the “Internet” without having any clue what the actual products would be that would add value. In a very similar fashion, people have been investing in “3D printing,” without understanding where the value will come from.
At the end of the day, the Internet itself never made any money. It was after the infrastructure was in place and people figured out how to really monetize it, that the boom came. The primary source of income for the tech darlings like Google is advertising. Same goes for Facebook and many others. The more your face is glued to the screen the more money they make by using your personal data.
In a similar way, “3D printing” is a not a product. Yet people who are interested in this area find that investing in the tech is the easiest way to get in the game. The real money, however, will be in everything else: materials, services, machines, software, applications, etc.
Companies that are doing well with applications often aren’t openly advertising how they are really using the technology to their advantage. Align Technology, for example, has nearly the revenue of both 3D Systems and Stratasys combined, but they only make one product: Dental aligners. Those are two of the largest 3D printing companies combined who have a portfolio of products from here to the moon. These two companies have been in the epicenter of the industry, but similar to Netscape or Altavista, they haven’t quite figured out how to pivot! This can be considered the danger zone in “3D printing.”
In this image (above) you can see how the dot com bubble burst and how the boom happened afterwards. If history repeats itself again, it’s quite obvious where this is going.
Above you can see the dot com burst and 3D printing hype side by side.
I truly believe that killer applications are still coming and will surprise us in the most unexpected ways. For example, we utilize Lisa by Sinterit at the core of our 3DTI manufacturing process. Since we use it for clever tooling inserts in our process, we just need one machine and only a little amount of materials. Just one machine powers the entire 3DTI manufacturing process and we can make millions of products with simple plastic tooling. This process creates exponential scale, but “3D printing” is not the end product.
What do you think will be the new killer applications utilizing 3D printing that will contribute to the boom?
Interested in learning more about my ideas for where to invest before the boom? Contact me via email.