Predicting The Future With A 3D Printer Expert

The 3D printing industry is still relatively new to the mainstream world. You won’t see many people talking about 3D printers no matter where you are.

An industry that has the potential to disrupt every industry should be talked about more. Thankfully, a 3D printing expert from Flam3D.

took the time to answer some general questions.

screenshot of email
Screenshot of email

Table of Contents

1. How And When Did You Get Into 3D Printing?

Back in 2015, I was looking for a new challenge on the crossroads of technology, networking, management, and SME development. That’s how I ran into the vacancy for director at Flam3D.

So, as a matter of fact, I didn’t have any knowledge on AM before that. It was a steep learning curve, but the advantage of a network association is that you learn a lot through the network itself.

2. What Is Flam3D About?

It's all about making additive manufacturing grow.

That's a very broad definition indeed - and so it involves quite a bit of activities. More concrete, it means we try to stimulate research, supports efforts in bringing 3D printing to education (or vice versa), try to generate business by communication activities, reports, business events, matchmakings, etc.

We are a membership-based organization, so we mainly work for the benefit of our members, within our mandate.

3. Where Do You See 3D Printing In 5, 10, 20 Years?

Perhaps not within 5 years yet, but surely in 10 to 20 years, 3D print technologies will be "just another option", next to many other production methods.

Obviously, this is not valid for all 3D print technologies; some will still be in development, whereas others will be the technology of choice for many applications.

Sometimes, it feels like the evolution is slow.

3D printing has been around for over 3 decades now, and it still looks the same, at times. But when you look closely, it's an amazing journey. 25% growth annually for over 20 years that's only possible because speed goes up, quality becomes consistent, prices go down, etc...and recently we've seen the "Big Industry" stepping in with enormous investments. They will continue to drive the change.

4. How Can Hobbyists Monetize 3D Printing?

That's a difficult one.

Let's say it depends on what return-on-investment you expect as a hobbyist...There are many 3D print cases that lie just outside the scope of commercial businesses and could be the focus for hobbyist printers.

End-users sometimes expect that a 3D printed part should cost only a couple of dollars, and they are disappointed when they hear the real cost.

Just to put things straight, it's usually not the printing or the material which is expensive. But if you count (only) an hour of design work and one more for post-processing, you quickly end up with pretty "expensive" parts - in the perception of a consumer.

Hence, we've seen a shift from B2C to B2B. In many cases, B2C is just not a profitable business plan for a company. So, hobbyists for whom hours don't come at a B2B-rate could fill this gap:

- Repairs
- Pieces of art
- Personal adaptations of tools
- Small tooling

We see enough cases that are (reluctantly) put aside by printing companies that have significant value for users/consumers.

5. What Are The Most Interesting 3D Printer Companies Right Now?

Neutrality and independence are core values at Flam3D. Hence, it wouldn't be appropriate to express my personal opinion hereon. This has also to do with the fact that we regularly receive or hear (confidential) information on upcoming developments or innovations.

So, the readers will understand that we wouldn't want to (unintentionally) hint in one direction or another.

6. What's One Thing You Would Like Everybody To Know About 3D Printers?

It is happening:

Dear entrepreneur, product developer, customer, you better follow up closely if or when 3D-printing would be relevant for you. Your competitor is checking it, so you risk becoming less competitive or even obsolete or irrelevant. Just like with any innovation process or new production technology, it is a matter of applying it to your benefit, at the right time.

7. What Is Your Favorite 3D Printer And Why?

Can you imagine the result if I’d answer this question? Flam3D would have one member only: the producer of that one printer… ;). So, by mandate, I don’t have a favorite printer. A safer answer:

I can say that I am quite fascinated by some of the work being done at the LLNL. Their three-beam laser system or Computed Axial Lithography systems are very inspiring, I think. More in general, I’m often surprised that SLA, DLP and similar systems do not get more attention in the media, given their actual use (which is high) and future potential.

8. Do You Think 3D Printers Will Be In Households Everywhere Similar To Paper Printers?

I don’t think that will be happening anywhere soon – partially because of technological reasons: for printing text, we need one material on one substrate: ink on paper.

For pictures, we mix a couple of inks on the paper. Not an easy feat, for sure. But nothing compared to the complexity you’d expect from 3D-printers. How many things around us are actually consisting of one material only?

On my desk here, I see a mobile phone, a laptop, tape measure, pens, paper, glasses, a cup of coffee and a light bulb: nothing that qualifies for 3D-printing, at this moment.

Combining materials is quite a technical challenge (materials behavior), which is partially being cracked at this moment. But it will still take a lot of time before it ends up in our house.

There are also other reasons: who will have the design skills? (it requires more than good software). And there is the economic reason: as long as I can buy my glasses or cell phone at a reasonable price, with guarantee, at a manufacturer who’s an expert in that specific product (with a high-end printer), I’m probably better off (also financially), then when I’d do it myself.

9. What Industries Do You See 3D Printers Disrupting?

All and none.

All, because all (or at least a huge number of) sectors will be affected by the potential of the technology. None, because mostly, 3D-printing in itself doesn’t disrupt a market or industry. By now, almost all hearing aids are 3D-printed. That’s a significant change, for sure, but that industry itself has not been disrupted. It merely moved on – as it will keep on doing.

10. What's The Most Exciting Thing About 3D Printing Right Now?

The strategic game.

Of course, the technological developments and rapid advancements in materials, quality, etc. are exciting. But from the point of view of development of the 3D-printing scene, I think the impact of mergers, acquisitions, cooperation agreements, common investments, and so on, are of vital importance. It’s a strategic game of chess whereby nobody is able to see all pieces on the board.

I must admit I find it intriguing.

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