3D printing is a technology that seems to change every year. When it was first created, the buzz was about its potential to revolutionize manufacturing processes, especially when it came to rapid prototyping. After it had become clear the tech needed more time before it could be cost effective for manufacturers, everyone realized it’s numerous applications in the art and design communities. Structures that would have been impossible to create suddenly became accessible to any artist who could create a CAD model.
The industry has gone through many hype phases, with a recent downturn in public excitement, as many of the early entrants into the desktop printer space have shut down. While consumer interest has waned, a quiet movement has begun in the corporate world, with major players beginning to adapt 3D printers for their own needs.
Many of the major 2D printing companies are considering how they can get in on the 3D market. As they do, however, most are facing significant obstacles to innovation. Consultant Bill Connerly explains that sometimes, “the optimum design for 3D printing is not always the optimum design for traditional manufacturing, and vice versa.” 3D printing requires an entirely different mode of thinking, which is why some 2D printing giants are looking to 3D printing startups to help innovate and integrate 3D printing technology.
3D Printing World is not that easy
Printing and tech services giant Konica Minolta is expanding its footprint in the 3D printing world. As they sold 3D printers, they began to recognize that the hardware isn’t the only component to success in the market – making it easy to use is just as important. Konica Minolta realized how this could help innovate and improve the industry on an enterprise level and partnered with the 3D printing company ZVerse.
In a recent online discussion with ZVerse CEO and founder John Carrington, he explained why software is a vital component to 3D printing success, “Plenty of companies have tried to make use of 3D printing and quickly find that the industry has a content creation problem. Previously you had to practically be an engineer or CAD expert to create a successful design. That’s why we created a simple software solution, called LAYR, that takes basic 2D images and converts them into printable 3D models. It is the fastest path from idea to physical object. Printers with our software integrated, instantly become more useable and subsequently more valuable.”
The future of Commercial 3D Printing
So where is commercial 3D printing headed next?. Imagine walking into a print shop with an idea or a drawing and walking out with a physical product. That’s the kind of future this industry is seeking. While many commentators have claimed that the print industry is slipping due to digital alternatives, IBISWorld’s 2016 report puts the industry at a healthy $86 billion in revenue.
Infuse 3D printing solutions and that industry could experience massive growth in the coming years. With IDC estimating that the 3D printing industry will reach over $35 billion by 2020, the opportunities for innovative solutions to grow that number are endless.
Another group that is starting to capitalize on the potential of 3d solutions is the architectural industry. Many architectural models and prototypes cost a lot to produce. We’ve been able to work with firms to create similar models at a fraction of the cost and often with multiple versions. Firms that leverage 3D printing partners can reduce the cost of projects and increase the likelihood of discovering problems long before the project begins.
Giants Empowering Fresh Innovators
These companies could also help foster a new age of innovation with 3D printing technology. While desktop printers have reached consumer friendly prices, commercial grade printers remain out of reach for most entrepreneurs and startups. 2D printing giants that employ 3D printing services can be the partner that rents the technology as a service to help bring ideas into production.
With printing and commercial services giants like HP, Konica Minolta, Canon all entering the 3D printing space, it’s clear the industry has massive potential for growth. The key to creating competitive advantage will be securing the innovative solutions that others have developed to help make quick changes, rather than spending precious time and resources on developing proprietary solutions. 3D printing as a movement has always been about constant iteration and agile innovation. While large companies often struggle to develop solutions quickly, partnerships with innovative startups help keep things moving in the right direction.
3D printing is a revolutionary technology. Despite experiencing several slow starts, the industry is experiencing steady growth, and with innovation in software solutions, stands to expand rapidly in the coming years. As more and more large organizations leverage start-ups to help employ new strategies in the 3D printing space, we can expect to see exciting new developments in what can be printed and increasingly simpler design processes. The result will be a positive feedback loop in which startups help established companies remain agile and innovative, while those larger organizations empower new innovators to make their ideas a reality.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.