Thursday, 9 January 2014

3D Systems appoints as Chief Creative Officer (CCO)

In a surprising move for and for 3D Systems, the company has issued a press release stating:

January 8, 2014 – 3D Systems today announced that, global entertainer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, joined 3DS as its Chief Creative Officer. In this leadership role, will inspire, shape and drive all of 3DS’ initiatives to mainstream the use of 3D printing through major collaborations with creative brand partners, innovative global campaigns and educational grand challenges designed to grow the popularity of 3D printing.

The addition of to the 3DS team brings tremendous talent, vision and influence, and underscores the company’s commitment to democratize 3D printing.  3DS plans to leverage’s international creative industry network to immediately extend its reach into select high-end fashion accessories houses, leading entertainment and life style brands and key corporate sponsored educational and sustainability initiatives.

“3D printing lets you get involved, be a part of the creative process and the story of the items you make,” said, Chief Creative Officer, 3DS. ”For me it’s a dream come true to work with 3DS, the company that invented 3D printing and launched an entire platform that all other industries depend on. I am so thrilled to begin to fuse my creativity and experience with the technology that is poised to change how we create, make and express ourselves.”

 “We’re excited to partner with a pop culture influencer of’s caliber who really gets 3D printing and its potential,” said Avi Reichental, President and CEO of 3DS. “ is a global tastemaker who embodies the essence of creativity and entrepreneurship, and we are fortunate to have him as our guide on this exciting journey.”

Original press release

Do consumers really want to 3D print?

It's far from clear whether the average consumer wants to 3D print. Take this trend as evidence:

MakerBot industries started out making kits for 3D printers. They then discovered that the market for printer kits (i.e. a set of parts) was vanishingly small. So they started to produce pre-built 3D printers and eventually withdrew the kit market altogether. With 3D Printers, it appears, consumers want a complete product, not a construction project. Why should it be any different for any other product category?

This shift of MakerBot's business no doubt went against the 'maker' roots of their enthusiastic and motivating CEO, Bre Prettis, but he had no choice if his new venture funding partners were to build a scale business.

MakerBot and their investors also discovered that very few people have 3D design skills, and so initiated an effort called Thingiverse to provide (and share) downloadable 3D objects for 'making' on a home 3D printer. No doubt some 'maker' or 'arts and design' users do adapt these designs .... but one cannot help thinking that if the object that comes out of your printer is the same as the download file, you might very well just buy a manufactured item.

Consumers may not have the time or skills or patience for 3D home printing. And the trend continues ...

MakerBot have announced at CES 2014 (Las Vegas) a new 3D content store which is being hailed by some as the 'iTunes' of 3D printing. Listen to how this is described:

"The game-changing new MakerBot digital store features a host of professionally designed digital 3D models, created by an in-house team at MakerBot, made to be simple and easy to purchase and print with one-touch." "3D printing can be a bit daunting from the outside, so we’ve created all these 3D designs that you can buy individual models or as a collection - a bit like songs - and create fun for kids and adults alike," admits Bre Pettis.

Previously MakerBot offered a cloud-based design sharing service called Thingiverse, which allowed users to upload their designs and share them with a community and access them from anywhere with a MakerBot 3D printer. The new digital store sits alongside the Thingiverse service, augmenting it with professional, proven designs that are guaranteed to work, and launches with six different collections of models primarily based around children’s toys.

The models can be picked up individually for $0.99 or as whole collections of models for $9.99 and include mini characters spanning every day life, construction, dragons, knights, kings and queens, as well as little pet animals for the kids. For adults, the model collection also includes a series of rocket ships and “famous flyers” – models inspired by key real-life aircraft from history.

What the next step in this trend? Yes, you guessed it: just ordering the product from a supplier? That's got to be even simpler than the one-button automated software process that Makerbot are implementing between their 3D iTunes web site and a printer in your home. Seems over complex .... why not leave it to the supplier to decide how to fulfil (and customise to user preferences) your order .... from a shelf (inventory), or on demand 3D printing? Why does a home need a 3D printer? Do consumers really want 'distributed manufacturing'?

The trend which MakerBot (the poster-child of consumer 3D printing) seems to be admitting is that consumers want whole products, not processes. An order button on Amazon is surely no different from a 'Make Button' if there is no design involved. Consumers will always jump to buy the products they want, and care less about the process behind them.

It's a fact: Consumers don't want to make things, unless they are a maker. They don't want to design things, unless they are a designer. And they don't want to have lots of equipment lying around the house just to be able to order the products they want .... they already have Smartphones for that.

Weigh up the following equation:  Amazon delivery in just a few days (or less) .v. ownership and maintenance of a 3D printer) only able to produce simple plastic models. No contest. One is a CapEx+OpEx model, the other an OpEx model. Unless MakerBot intend to give printers away for free.

And why not have Amazon decide whether to carry inventory or print on demand in their warehouses?

So what is MakerBot (and 3D Systems with Cube and Cubify) really creating? They are creating a new toy and hobby, not a manufacturing revolution.

And think about this: won't all the really interesting new products that consumers will want next (such as all the other complex gadgets at CES 2014) be far, far, more complex than any 3D printer will be able to create, no matter how sophisticated or expensive?

Discuss. What have I missed?

Those who are familiar with this blog will know that some of the 'thought experients' I set up should not be read as indicating what I personally believe. In the next article we'll look more closely at the tangled relationships that 3D printing creates between a product, its design, and its production and consumption, hoping to shed light on what will happen in 3D printing over the next few years

The 3D printing acquisition juggernaut

Remember the merger of Stratasys and Objet? Or the acquisition of ZCorp by 3D Systems? As we observed, consolidation is not necessarily a sign of a perfectly healthy industry. It could mean companies are struggling to go it alone. It could also signify that the Additive Manufacturing industry is shifting from products to services, a process known as 'servitization'. When an industry shifts to services there is always a rush to become THE total solution provider.

Preeminent among the the acquirers is 3D Systems. We have reported on their long history of acquisitions before. What looked like perfectly good companies all became units within the 3D Systems umbrella.

Why are good companies with good products not able to make it on their own? There are two factors:

1. In an industry shifting to services, product companies lose their route to market. 3D Systems is now that route to market.

2. Despite the media hype and inflated expectations of a 3D revolution, Additive Manufacturing is a quiet evolution. It is a niche within manufacturing, slowly absorbed, one part at a part. It is not one technology - but many different processes each requiring its own hardware - a set of niches within a niche.

And more and more acquisitions are announced almost every month. The latest by 3D Systems include:

Figulo a specialist in the 3D printing of ceramics and whose products and services will now be marketed under the 3D Systems brand CeraJet.

TheSugarLab, a specialist in the 3D printing of edible products and whose products and services will now be marketed under the 3D systems brand ChefJet.

Village Plastics, a supplier of 3D printing filaments.

Gentle Giant Studios, a 3D sculpting, VFX and 3D scanning specialist sitting on a large body of content.

3D Systems now describes itself as "a leading provider of 3D printing centric design-to-manufacture solutions including 3D printers, print materials and cloud sourced on-demand custom parts for professionals and consumers alike in materials including plastics, metals, ceramics and edibles."

3D Systems have been patiently waiting for AM to go mainstream for over twenty years. It was the RepRap community and the companies it spawned (notably Makerbot and Ultimaker) that opened up the consumer, 'maker' and the arts and design opportunities. Another factor was the emergence of on-demand, self-service, Web-based bureau services such as Shapeways, iMaterialize and Sculpteo. (I call these '3D Experiences'. 3D Systems now has its own 'Cube' series of products and services.)

The rush is on.

3D Systems appears to be trading R&D dollars for acquisitions. For CEO Avi Reichental the challenge will be cross-selling among its businesses and integration of the very diverse portfolio of products it owns. To what extent such acquisitions, as opposed to innovation, can bolster the company's share price will only become evident once the hype around 3D printing dies down.