Be cautious when you simplify. You can make a concept or an idea so simple that you lose context. For example, a recent blog by Motley Fool indicates that three stats will tell you what you need to know about investing in a 3D printer company.
Motley Fool is a financial services company. They provide “financial solutions” through various finance products that they want you to buy. The caveat “buyer beware” probably applies here.
Their recent blog on “3D Printing in 2016: 3 Stats Everyone Should Know” is supposed to be an analysis of the current 3D printing industry and what investors might expect in terms of return on investment. Several statements struck me as simply wrong.
For example, they state that HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology and Carbon3D’s Clip technology will be faster than older 3D printing technology. That comment is probably true.
But the idea that these newer technologies will make established 3D printing vendors 3D Systems and Stratasys’ products appear inferior is an error in simplicity. These systems will be evaluated as inferior just because of speed?
That’s a bit like saying you need one type of motor for all motion control needs. If that were the case, then we wouldn’t need both ac and dc motors, in brush and brushless versions, with different types of windings. And we wouldn’t need induction, synchronized, or linear motors in squirrel cage, wound rotor, permanent magnet, and other variations. And there would be no need for variations on other motion components, such as actuators and linear components; and of course, we would only ever need one type of bearing—round. And so on.
Are these analysts saying speed is the main critical factor when evaluating any of the seven major 3D printing technologies? Do they even know there are seven? And that each suits particular applications that the others do not?
If you need to build something fast, the best technology is still CNCs and injection molding. Just make sure your design fits the limitations of these established machinery. If you need to build something outside those limitations, then 3D printing/additive manufacturing may serve. For example, estimate how long it would take a CNC machine to cut the rather famous Airbus bracket. My bet–a lot longer than it would take to sinter on an additive manufacturing machine; assuming you can get the CNC cutting bits to move in the odd angles necessary to make the cuts.
To say that speed of build is the only valuable capability of any 3D printing machine is ignorant—in the dictionary sense that those evaluating this criterion are uninformed and not knowledgeable about the subject. Speed is not the only factor engineers’ evaluate when determining a suitable technology for a project. Engineers pick a technology based on “how far, how often, how accurately, how much, as well as how fast” in their evaluations of solutions. The Motley Fool comments show just how little financial analysts understand about engineering.
The big question financial analysts are tiptoeing around is “Why isn’t 3DP/AM taking off faster?” Why aren’t more engineers using it? My answer is education. Just like these financial analysts need to know and understand more about this technology, engineers need to increase their understanding of it too. It’s a steep learning curve.
This nearly 30-year-old technology has been a niche technology for all but the last five years. About three years ago, some saw that you can do some production with it, and suddenly investors (and others) expect this technology to stamp out products at the speed of CNCs.
To best use 3DP/AM, we need engineers educated to think differently. That is now happening. My advice to those interested in investing in this industry is this—if you could go back in time and buy Apple stock in the early days of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, would you do it? 3D printing / Additive Manufacturing may be that same type of opportunity.