Avi Reichental has left his position as CEO of 3D Systems. To please stockholders, the company is now reshaping itself, which means cost cutting measures.
What does this say about desktop 3D printing, if anything?
After all, Reichental was one of the better known proponents of desktop 3D printers.
It may not say much at all.
First, desktop printers are not going to go away. Sales may still have not reached the millions of units annually, but they are strong.
Second, they are a highly useful device for a number of users and markets.
Third, new vendors continue to introduce new models, some with amazing capabilities.
But Reichental was a big proponent of the idea that every home will have a 3D printer; that these paradigm-shifting products will “democratize” manufacturing and put the capability to make products into the hands of everyone. The idea of a desktop manufacturing device is so compelling.
So why doesn’t every home have one by now?
I’ve been offered desktop 3D printers and have chosen not to have one. Why? Because, in my consumer role, other than producing stuff that I will throw away soon, I don’t see a reason to have one at home. I’m not going to build flower vases for tonight’s dinner. I’m not going to build napkin holders, or decorative bowls for fruit. I’m not going to print shoes with the materials available for desktop 3D printers. I’m not going to print small parts that I can find at Home Depot for a lot less money.
Today, the desktop 3D printer does not solve a problem for me.
Successful products solve a need consumers have, even though they may not be aware of this need. But when the product becomes available, it’s almost an “ah-hah” moment; a “how did I ever live without this before” moment.
Wireless smart phones, for example, clearly solved a problem. Remember the days of waiting at home by your landline phone for a call from the repairman letting you know which half of the day they would be coming?
Remember the days when no one could communicate with you other than by a landline phone? Now you have to consciously turn off technology to not be available.
Remember the days of deciding which book you would take with you on a trip? Thanks to smart tablets, I can take 300 books in a device that weighs just barely over a pound.
The potential for desktop 3D printers to be a successful home product is still there. But first, proponents must answer the question of what need they solve for the everyman, not just for those who always buy the newest thing.
Reichental’s departure will not really affect the desktop 3D printing market. Leaks and comments give many opinionates 20/20 hindsight as to what happened at 3D Systems, which include but are not limited to: the buying spree, the lawsuits, the buying of the competition, the poor or dropping quality of many of the products.
3D Systems will survive in some form. And desktop 3d printers will continue to improve. Several companies are developing desktop systems that are amazing, such as the CLIP (continuous liquid interface production), Formlabs 3D printers and the Ultimaker, among others.
And someday, someone will figure out what need a desktop 3D printer solves for the homeowner.