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Why you'll never buy a 3D printer

Lucas Mearian | June 29, 2016
The consumer 3D printer market, which has even tried to connect itself to video gaming, still seeks 'killer app'

"And in a hallway conversation at a recent trade show, one of their guys told me they are 'less interested' in slugging it out with the other vendors in the sub-$1,000 price category," Greene said.

3D Systems shifts gears

3D Systems is also less interested in the consumer 3D printer market, which it entered into in 2011.

At the end of 2015, 3D Systems announced the end of its $999 Cube consumer 3D printer line and said it would also shutter its consumer printing platform by January 31.

"We still have the Cube Pro printer -- that's sub-$5,000, but that's kind of our entry level now on the desk tops for applications like education and desktop engineering," said Timothy Miller, 3D Systems' director of corporate communications.

"We're focusing on manufacturing and the professional customer because that's where we see near-term opportunities," Miller added.

3D Systems was among the first 3D printer manufacturers when it was founded in 1984; its CTO, Chuck Hull, was one of the inventors of the 3D printing technology and created the widely-adopted STL (stereolighography) file format used by machines today.

Over the past two years, however, 3D Systems' stock has dropped precipitously from a high of about $97 per share in 2014 to a low of $6.29 in May. Today, it's trading for around $12.

And, in April, 3D Systems replaced its interim CEO with Vyomesh Joshi, the former vice president of imaging and printing at HP who is credited with doubling profits there.

Miller said while the company is will soon announce a new long-term strategy, it has already shifted toward producing more professional machines aimed at up-and-coming markets, including 3D printers for production.

Wohlers said 3D Systems' financial issues have less to do with the industry's downward trajectory and more to do with the company's lack of focus and increased competition.

In 2011, for example, 31 companies worldwide produced and sold industrial 3D printers -- those priced at more than $5,000. Five years later, that doubled to 62 companies, according to the Wohlers Report 2016.

As with the beginning of the 3D printing industry, the highest growth markets for the technology continues to be automotive, healthcare and aerospace. However, along with rapid prototyping, 3D printing production parts is beginning to take shape.

Where the market is headed

According to IDC's report, the fastest-growing segment in the 3D printing industry is in the $25,000 to $100,000 price category -- printers that use a mix of technologies for both plastic and metal printing for use in markets including dental, medical, automotive and aerospace.

Last year, for example, HP announced it would enter the 3D printed parts manufacturing space with a machine aimed directly at production, not the consumer market. HP's machine, a ink-jet like "materials jetting" system, is part of a market expected to grow faster than any other, according to IDC.


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