World’s largest 3D printing conference

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I recently attended EuroMold 2014, the world’s largest 3D printing conference, held in Frankfurt, Germany. Here are nine things I learned about the industry.

1. The conversation around 3D printing is maturing, but awareness remains in a bubble.
The conversation among EuroMold attendees appears to be maturing compared to previous years. It’s become less about explaining what 3D printing is, and more about howand why 3D printing can be used to benefit an operation. Put another way, 3D printing appears to be more widely accepted as a technology than ever before, but this observation only seems to ring true in certain circles. Outside of 3D printing, prototyping, and manufacturing circles, the underlying consensus is that general awareness of 3D printing is still lacking. Ultimately, driving long-term adoption will depend on first creating greater awareness.

2. Metal 3D printing is an exciting, high-growth area that’s still in its infancy.
According to 3D printing insights firm Wohlers Associates, the metal 3D printing industryexperienced 75.8% annual growth in 2013, equating to 348 metal 3D printers being sold worldwide. Despite its relatively small size, metal 3D printing was a major focus at EuroMold, because the expectation is that it will grow to represent a larger percentage of the overall 3D printing market as more manufacturing-related applications take hold. After all, General Electric has plans to metal-3D-print more than 45,000 mission-critical jet engine fuel nozzles per year by 2020 — a feat that is likely to make history as the largest-scale mission-critical 3D printing application ever. Metal 3D printing players seem to be banking on the likelihood that GE will fuel increased adoption across the industry.

3. Academia is also driving 3D printing innovation.
Research and development isn’t only coming from 3D printing companies — it’s also coming from academic and government-funded research organizations that want to push the boundaries of the technology. Research organizations often demonstrate a proof of concept at 3D printing conferences as a way to attract collaborators for commercialization or licensees.

At EuroMold, TNO, a research organization based in the Netherlands, showcased a “racetrack” 3D printing platform concept, whereby print beds visit various 3D print-head stations, boosting print speeds by up to 10 times compared to conventional 3D printing methods — in an extremely similar manner to 3D Systems‘ own “racetrack” 3D printing concept. For me, TNO’s display acted as a great reminder that competitive threats can come from unusual places.

4. HP entering the 3D printing market is both validating and frightening.
From an industry perspective, it’s validating that Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) hasannounced plans to enter the 3D printing space in 2016 with a homegrown inkjet-based technology it’s calling Multi Jet Fusion, which it claims is up to 10 times faster than the two leading 3D printing technologies on the market today: material extrusion and selective laser sintering.

At the same time, it’s frightening for industry prospects that HP is entering the space, because HP brings decades of inkjet-based experience, has nearly five times as much cash on hand as the industry generated in worldwide revenues last year, and comes armed with an extensive reseller network. Although entrenched 3D printing companies have time to respond to the threat that HP poses by introducing 3D printers that are faster and more versatile before it enters the market, it may prove to be an uphill battle.

5. The use cases for consumer 3D printing are lacking.
Beyond education and children, the use cases for consumer 3D printing applications are lacking, especially after taking into account that a typical consumer-oriented 3D printer can easily cost upward of $1,000 — not exactly in the “impulse buy” category. There also doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus across the industry of what will help drive consumer adoption. I’ve heard various factors like ease of use, falling prices, and killer applications as ways to help drive consumer adoption to new heights, but how everything comes together in a cohesive way for consumers seems to be a big question mark.

6. Direct 3D printing manufacturing will be a major driver of future industry growth.
A prevailing belief at EuroMold was the idea that 3D-printed parts will increasingly end up in final products and eventually represent a significantly larger market than today’s prototyping market. The issue with this belief is that 3D printing was initially built as a rapid prototyping process, and the path that industry takes to expand into direct manufacturing applications won’t necessarily be a straight line.

From what I’ve gathered, it seems likely that certain 3D printing applications will be better suited than others at first for direct manufacturing. For instance, personalized healthcare devices and low-volume aviation components may pioneer direct 3D printing manufacturing applications well before larger-volume 3D printing applications become candidates for direct manufacturing.

7. The 3D printing industry appears ripe for disruption.
As a technology, 3D printing is relatively immature compared to traditional manufacturing, with its biggest limiting factors being speed, running cost, and ease of use. Considering that the industry is expected to grow from generating about $3 billion in worldwide revenues in 2013 to over $21 billion by 2020, there certainly appears to be an attractive opportunity for a new entrant or technology to address these unmet needs. After attending EuroMold and seeing a host of 3D printing companies offering very similar products, I became increasingly convinced that the threat of disruption isn’t a matter of if, but when.

8. Pricing pressures aren’t pervasive… yet.
Despite the allure of attractive growth rates, expiring patents, and increasing competition, 3D printing average selling prices haven’t really had a negative effect on the industry at large. Thus far, the majority of pricing pressures appear to be at the lower end of the spectrum, around the highly competitive consumer segment. Although 3D printer average selling prices are expected to decline further in the coming years, the industry has yet to acknowledge these potentially difficult-to-manage headwinds.

9. New materials are expected to expand the use cases for 3D printing.
Another key focus at EuroMold was the emphasis on new materials that are aimed at expanding applications and functionality of 3D printing to become more competitive against traditional manufacturing processes. I fully expect to see 3D printing companies continuing to develop proprietary materials as a way to remain differentiated in the coming years.

by Steve HellerFool Contributor | Jan 18, 2015 at 12:34PM

Top areas to watch in 2015

Happy New Year from Malta 3D Printing! 2014 was a Terrific Year, Check Out What’s in Store for 2015!

In the following video, 3D printing specialist Steve Heller reports from the floor of EuroMold 2014, the world’s largest 3D printing conference, held in Frankfurt, Germany last month, to share the biggest areas he thinks investors and industry watchers should monitor in 2015 and beyond. Going forward, it’s important for 3D printing investors to monitor industry developments to determine if they could have a material impact on their investments.

Steve Heller: Hey, Fools, Steve Heller here. We’re at EuroMold 2014. We’re at day three, Thanksgiving Day. We’re going to be talking about the top trends to be watching for 2015 in the year ahead.

A lot of these are going to be a continuation of previous trends, but I think they’re proliferating a little bit more in the marketplace.

No. 1: prototyping. Prototyping obviously had a very big presence this year at EuroMold. Basically, prototyping allows companies to bring products to market faster when they use 3D printing technology as a rapid prototyping application. I think that is definitely going to continue, going forward.

Materials, too; look out for new materials [that expand 3D printing applications and help drive adoption] in 2015.

In terms of healthcare-related things, I found this statistic really interesting: In dental, on EOS machines based out of Germany, there have been 10 million crowns and bridges 3D-printed. So, out there in the world, 10 million people have crowns and bridges in their mouths right now that are 3D-printed. That’s incredible!

Jewelry, definitely a continuation on the customization. I got to actually see micro-laser sintering from EOS, and that was an amazing technology. They’re able to print a one-micron-layer thickness – one-micron-layer thickness, that’s incredible resolution. I’ll post some pictures along with this video so that you can see for yourselves how detailed this technology is.

In terms of education, I think that’s another big theme going forward: creating awareness. We’re at the point where there’s a general industry acceptance, but it seems that EuroMold is a little bit in a bubble.

If you walk around and ask a normal person on the street that’s not tied to this industry, “What’s going on? What is 3D printing?” chances are, they may not know too much about 3D printing, or maybe they heard about that 3D-printed gun that one time, so educating people around awareness is definitely going to be a continuation into 2015.

In terms of aerospace, there wasn’t as much of an aerospace presence here. However, there was a metal 3D printing presence. General Electric didn’t have their booth here this year so they weren’t really pushing that aviation angle, but aviation is definitely a huge growth driver of direct metal laser 3D printing applications, going forward.

In terms of healthcare, I got to see a 3D-printed hip implant, which was pretty incredible-looking and kind of crazy! That was from EOS. I think healthcare is still another one of those areas that it’s individualized; you don’t need to make a prototype for it. You can actually print the final product. You don’t have to make a mold for it, you don’t have to tool for it. You can get an actual personalized, one-off solution for a patient.

I think that’s pretty incredible and that’s going to continue, going forward. Those are obviously the two biggest growth drivers of this industry: healthcare and aviation.

Going forward too, I think color is another big focus. 3D Systems had a big display of color, so did Stratasys, so did Mcor Technologies, which is paper-based color.

It seems that all the players are moving toward a full-color world. They’re not just looking for gray-scale prototypes anymore. We’re looking for full-color prototypes that actually show stress points. At low operating costs, that’s going to be a huge trend to watch going forward.

In terms of art and fashion, although right now it’s a smaller space, it gives 3D printing a lot of visibility and it’s extremely high-value in terms of profitability, for Stratasys, let’s say. Their art installation that they had here was absolutely incredible.

It’s expensive to create some of this stuff [art and fashion items] and it actually doesn’t necessarily move the needle in terms of their overall business, but it creates awareness. It gets people looking at this 3D-printed piece of art and saying, “Wow, look at the possibilities. Look at the freeform structure of this. This could actually not have been made any other way than with a 3D printer.” That’s the message that’s being portrayed there.

In terms of direct manufacturing, that was another really big trend this year, basically going direct to making either a finished part or a finished product with a 3D printer. I think that is definitely happening more and more as we go forward. I think that’s where the industry is going to mature to, and I think that companies are working to capitalize on that opportunity.

Another area that I think is a little bit more overlooked is research. You’ve got Oak Ridge National Labs, you’ve got this group, TNO, out of the Netherlands. They’re doing some really interesting things with proof of concepts, proving out technologies, licensing technologies, looking for co-collaborators. I think that academic research is another really interesting area of 3D printing going forward.

Then also, of course, it’s 2014: the 3D-printed selfie. It’s all about scanning solutions as well. Saw a lot of that here this year.

These, together, are all trends that investors and industry watchers — people that are just interested in watching how the industry grows and develops — these are great areas to watch going forward.

Thanks for watching, and Fool on!

by Steve Heller | December 28, 2014