When I first started writing and editing about rapid prototyping way back when – one of the major benefits of using the tech for prototyping applications (which, incidentally, does still stand today) was time-to-market. That’s to say getting a successful product to market first and maximizing the business returns of doing so. I remember writing about the impact of being first and the ‘me-too’ products that followed. There were often debates about whether being first or being an ‘improved me too’ product was best. Obviously you had to factor in branding and marketing and the quality of the product.
It has struck me recently that this is where 3D printing actually is now – with the printers themselves and the services and ancillary products springing up around the sector too. There are really rather a lot of them now. And it probably goes without saying that not all of them can survive. I’d say we are not too far off saturation point either – the pinnacle of the hype cycle, and we surely must be there or there about, has seen hoards of individuals and small start-ups create original and not-so-original 3D printing business models around the potential, the reality, and at least some of them, the hype. As the trough of disillusionment beckons, we are likely to get clearer visibility on the companies that will be in this for the long haul and the many more that won’t survive and will move on to bubbles new.
It is even getting quite difficult to categorise the genres of the business as they grow and/or emerge — I used to be able to differentiate really easily — hardware, software, service and materials. With some companies doing more than one thing, still easy. Now, though, there are hardware manufacturers that offer services; services that resell hardware; services within services; 3D Content repositories — some with 3D printing services or affiliated to them others without; as of today there are also services that offer APIs; and, of course, one or two that try to do it all – not quite sure what I’m going to call them.
It’s getting messier and messier. I’m not a fan of mess, generally, but this is all quite good fun as I try to figure it all out and label everything in an appropriate and understandable way — mostly for me, which will maybe help you!?
I’ve also just been made aware of another, let’s call it service, launching this month (no specific date). Been asked to hold off on covering it for a day or two, but news to follow early next week.
The upshot is that 3D printing is exciting, it offers much and will continue to do so, I believe. The companies that try to do business around it however, will need to be flexible and accommodating to survive the ups and the downs as they happen.