The hype for 3D printing had reached dizzying heights by 2016, with articles coming out almost daily about 3D printing being utilized in various industries. From medical to food, 3D printing was everywhere.
And then, we suddenly saw some big names struggling. 3D printing stocks began tanking and some big, public companies went bust while others were bought out at low valuations.
While this can be confusing for outsiders (is it all that it’s hyped up to be?), as someone within the industry, I can safely say that 3D printing is here to stay. What one must realize is that it is not going to be in everyone’s homes anytime soon, as some manufacturers might have you think!
The 3D printing market globally is still at its infancy, – or some might argue that there isn’t really a market yet. While 3D printing has been used in prototyping (automobiles, airplanes etc.) for almost 3 decades now, it hasn’t really seen much development on the consumer side of things.
That being said, the rise in the number of 3D printing companies in 2016 and 2017 has been quite remarkable.
The market can predominantly be classified into 3 categories:
1) Prototyping companies
2) Printer manufacturers and/or distributors
3) Design companies
The first two types are by far the majority of the players in the industry. This shouldn’t be a surprise in countries like India though, given the rise of open-source 3D printing, the availability of cheap printer parts and the sheer number of engineering graduates.
The third type – design companies, are few and far between. The knowledge of 3D printing design is still largely limited to engineering design – not product design. My company, MakeWhale, seeks to address this gap by focusing on design for 3D printing across various materials and processes.
While 3D printing has by now permeated into most industries, the predominant markets for 3D printing remain:
- Medical: There is incredible work being done in 3D printing for medical applications including artificial limbs, dental applications, personalized medicine and much more
- Prototyping: This has always been the biggest application for 3D printing and with the rise of new processes such as direct metal printing and other new materials, it has greatly impacted various industries
- Personalization: One of the biggest benefits of 3D printing, over mass production is the ability to personalize and yet produce in quantity – what is known in the industry as ‘mass customization’. We have seen its applications in jewelry, gifting and other industries.
- Architecture: Apart from the obvious uses as architectural models, we are now seeing giant 3D printers capable of adding layers of cement to quickly and economically build homes. This has the potential to have a huge impact especially in developing nations that are focusing on low-income housing.
Confluence of Technology & Design
At MakeWhale, we are constantly pushing the boundaries of the application of 3D printing technology to consumer products resulting in a beautiful mix of technology and art. All our products are in a way, pieces of art. They are unique and one-of-a-kind, with each product totally personalized for the client’s needs.
We have seen amazing combinations of technology and 3D printing, such as using auto-generating code which designs products (within certain parameters) but ensures that no two people are buying the same design! Thanks to the zero inventory model that most 3D printing companies have, there are now no restrictions to how many designs one can have.
3D printing has allowed crossover from different professions. For example architects have now become jewelry designers and are creating never seen before lines of jewelry. All the limitations that were there previously with regards to designs and MOQs are now not a problem anymore.
In 2014 you would be hard pressed to find many 3D printing companies in India, perhaps a handful. Today however, the scenario is very different. Almost every Tier 1 and Tier 2 city will have 3D printing companies in some form. As mentioned earlier, the most common is those who offer printing services (also called service bureaus) as well as those who are making their own printers.
While the growth has been nothing sort of an explosion, a large chunk of these companies are offering essentially the same services and I can see a lot of consolidation happening in 2018.
India still has to see a company become a global powerhouse but there certainly are a few companies who look like they have the potential to make it there.
As with most industries and technology in India, we as an industry have to be careful to not get pulled into temptation of just offering ‘low cost’ services, but we have the chance to truly create an impact in the world of 3D printing – a world which is just beginning.
About the Author
Siddharth Sah is the Founder & CEO of MakeWhale, a 3D printing Design Company based in Mumbai which designs and 3D prints premium personalized products in a variety of materials and for multiple applications.