The Canvas for 3-D Printing
The concept of additive manufacturing, which takes a digital prototype and creates product from the continuous building up of thin layers of plastic, metal, ceramic, or other materials, has a variety of applications. Industrial manufacturing, healthcare, education, and aerospace are all industries where 3D printing can boost productivity. Computer-aided design models enable ever-more-sophisticated applications.
There‘s a high-end to the market—metals printing, for example— where specialized players and highly proprietary technologies are required. This segment is fast growing. There‘s also a low-end professional and personal segment, with a desktop market that includes hobbyists with home machines. Two broad trends within 3D printing include rapid prototyping in design and engineering and mass customization for finished parts in aerospace, automotive, and healthcare.
The 3D printer market is dynamic and highly competitive. Competition is especially fierce within the low-end professional and personal segment. Product cycles are rapid and prices constantly falling. Open source software development competes with for-profit technologies—some of them patent protected. It‘s a challenging environment for manufacturers of printers and printing material.
For a pure-play company like 3D Systems, the business model is classic ―razor-and-blade.‖ High-volume printer sales ideally drive long-lived demand for high-margin proprietary materials, software, and services. Then there are the companies that are applying 3D printing technology within their business. There are interesting use cases and proprietary technologies there.