A sure sign an industry is maturing is when new product announcements at major trade shows are really just improvements in current performance. Faster – New Materials – Higher Resolution – Faster – “true” 4 Color Printing – Higher Resolution – Faster – Multi-material – Higher Resolution – Did I mention Faster & Higher Resolution?
Such are most of the new product claims coming from the 3D Printing industry at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. These are improvements in product performance, not disruptive technologies, as in the pure Clayton Christensen definition set forth in The Innovator’s Dilemma.
Yes, MakerBot has some interesting new materials. But adding wood or metal to PLA may not satisfy the demanding requirements of industrial users. So really how game-changing is this? Being able to create more realistic doodads is not disruptive. 3D Printing equipment manufacturers from FormLabs to MCor to a myriad other companies are pushing the limits of what 3D Printing can do – faster, cheaper, with higher precision. That’s what happens when an industry matures.
There are a few disruptive technologies being launched at CES. Perhaps the most impressive is the new Voxel8 electronics 3D Printer from Professor Jennifer Lewis’ group at Harvard. 3D Printing plastic then in the middle of the build, switching to laying down conductive circuits, then closing up the housing with more plastic is very impressive. The video tells it all.
Another sign that 3D Printing is maturing is the marketing message emphasizing end user applications. Through partnerships with name brands in the consumer world, 3D Systems is showing how 3D Printing is part of the home, fashion, education, gaming…now. Yes, 3D Printing in the real world is here and now.
More evidence that 3D Printing had hit the mainstream was Stevie Wonder and will.i.am checking out new products in the 3D Systems booth. Mega stars interacting with 3D Printing means the technology has really arrived!