Early 3D Adopters: Who's Doing 3D Printing?
Corliss feels this 3D printing device really differentiates his company from potential competitors since the barrier to entry is higher. The Dimension 1200es costs more than $30,000 (compared to a hobbyist version for $2,000 or less). It also has a larger build area at 10x10x12˝. "The most common hobbyist model, the Makerbot, has a 125 cubic inch build area," Corliss says. "So my machine is 10 times bigger. That's a big deal. If you're building a small part—say 2x3 cubic inches—I can build 60 to 80 of them at one time."
There are limits to what you can do [with 3D prototyping] because there are service providers that are already doing it, according to Corliss. "They are well-entrenched, and they have multiple machines. But this technology is evolving quickly. With a little creative thinking, there are some real possibilities and potential for our industry to create new markets. But, the traditional market is already being met. So, it will take creative thinking."
One of the challenges, Corliss notes, is 3D design. Not every print shop can hire a 3D designer, and not every client will have a printable 3D file. Unless you are an output-only shop, 3D design capability is a must, but it increases overhead. (When Braintree created a customized yo-yo for an in-house event, it outsourced the job using oDesk to a designer in the Philippines.)
For this reason, Corliss believes, the hobbyist and novelty market isn't the future for commercial printers. "There is a limit to what you can do in that marketplace and limits to what those customers are willing to pay," he says.
When asked about using the device to move into markets like advertising specialties, Corliss raises the issue of speed. "[Even at the lower resolutions,] the technology by its nature is slow," he says. "Think of a poster printer, where the print head goes back and forth over a two-by-three-foot substrate. This is similar. The head goes back and forth many, many times. If the build resolution is .01 inch, the head has to go back and forth 100 times. If it's six inches high, that's 600 times."