3d printing is the next trillion dollar opportunity according to many economists. This is a post to raise awareness to the greek startup ecosystem and examine some business opportunities.
What is 3d Printing?
To put it simply, it is a machine in which you place some raw material (plastic/metal etc), you download a 3d printing file and it melts the material layer by layer until it creates a full object: e.g. a small toy, a cup, a Nokia Lumia case or a house. Go here or here to see what you can 3d print and watch the video below on how the popular Cube 3d printer works (cost of Cube 3d printer=1499USD):
We are not going deeper in the technology of 3d printing – if you are interested you can read more here. There is still a lot of room for improvements (e.g. raw materials are expensive, there are specific materials that can be 3d printed, with specific dimensions) but they will be dealt with in the future – just like the well-known 2d printers did in the past 20 years.
Why does it have a huge business potential?
As the Economist says, 3d Printers are not new. They have been around for many years but they used to cost 100k USD. Now they cost 1000USD. And they will go down. This is a story similar to the PC revolution, so expect in some years to own a 3d printer at your home for a couple of hundreds USDs.
This has the same business potential as normal 2d printers or the PC world, as it disrupts the normal Design –> Prototype –> Factory –> Merchant –> Buyer cycle. If you want a new Nokia Lumia case, designed by a new hip Italian designer, you can now just download the 3d design and print it at your home.
What do analysts predict about 3d Printing?
Many analysts predict that it is the next big think or close to a new 1 trillion USD industry.
- The Stock Market: Almost all 3d stocks (3d Systems, Stratasys, Perceptron) have an impressive stock chart in the last 12 months (and this is NOT a suggestion to go and buy stocks!)
- Gartner: In its hype cycle for 2012, 3d printing is at the top of the hype:
Which are the main companies in 3d printing worldwide?
The main companies in 3d printing are:
- 3d Systems: They produce the popular Cube Personal 3d Printer at 1299USD
- Stratasys: The main competitor of 3d Systems
- Autodesk: 3d Software Design
- Makerbot: They produce the “Replicator” 3d Printer
- Shapeways: The “Marketplace” for 3d designs
- Freedom Of Creation: 3d Print objects
- Contour Crafting: 3d printed houses
- Thingiverse: Marketplace for the Makerbot
10 million people who use 3D CAD software, source
30.000 installed professional 3d Printers, source
Business Opportunities for Startups in Greece
Let’s try to get to the juicy part now: How could I ride the wave of 3d printing hype? Here are some thoughts and suggestions to get your creativity started:
1. Automotive Industry
- This may be the sector with the biggest potential. Imagine: A small plastic component in your motorbike that keeps the back luggage there has broken and instead of having to go to the service to get a new one ordered, you just download the 3d design and print it at your home. Yes, security, copyright and other concerns will be important issues to be solved but you get the idea. In this sector there is a need for 3d scan software/devices that can easily produce the CAD of every design, or experienced teams of 3d designers who will produce the designs.
- A lot of universities, colleges, high schools will want to own a 3d printer and use it for educational purposes. There will be a need for custom made educational 3d designs and objects targeting only the educational sector
3. Rapid Prototyping
- Engineers/Architects will want to produce their own rapid prototypes. Many startups will want to produce prototypes combining normal objects with high-tech (e.g. a prototype shoe, with a Fitbit inside)
- You are in a Greek island with your better half and you want a statue of the two of you holding hands..You get the idea :)
- 3d Designs for mobile cases, hip objects for your house, a “Do-It-Your-Self Ikea” in the future..
- Once every consumer has a 3d printer, he will want to go to a central marketplace, search for a favorite design, pay for it (or get it free) and download it to his home 3d printer
7. Protection of 3d Designs
As files/movies/music are being shared without permission, the same occurs/will occur with 3d Design files. There is a need for the equivalent of the DRM of files in the 3d design world (and Intellectual Ventures, has already a patent on that). Read a nice article on that here
In general you can select a lot of different roads which prove to be successful: Develop 3d scan software and designs, develop the marketplace, develop 3d designs for specific verticals, combine 3d printing with other technologies etc..
- Amazon opens up a section just for 3d Printing: Here
- Microsoft offers 3d printing drivers/api in Windows 8: Here
What is your view? Let’s share some thoughts/insights!