On New Year’s Day 2013 I sat in my car and did a couple of telephone interviews with radio stations around the UK. They wanted to know what technology innovations I expected to see this year. It was an interruption to trying to change the glow plugs on my smoky diesel, but a pleasant one.
One of my predictions was that a major printer manufacturer would enter the consumer 3D printing market by the end of the year. The product would be under £400 and available on the high street.
So far, so…not good
Well, seven months down the line and I haven’t seen any sign of this happening. HP’s partnership with Stratasys is over. Epson lost Objet to Stratasys. Canon doesn’t even seem to be looking at the issue. Yet all of these companies — and other major players like Brother — have serious patents in the 3D printing field. The only 3D printer available on the high street is a £700 kit from Maplin — not the type of consumer product I was predicting.
I confess I am baffled.
What is stopping these giants of tech entering the marketplace? Especially HP, a company with a long history of innovation, a massive R&D budget and an incredibly powerful sales and marketing channel.
To put the relative scales into perspective, Stratasys, the current market leader in 3D printing, is valued in total at $3.4bn. That is just a little less than the amount HP invests in research and development every year — $3.6bn in 2012.
The rumours are that HP is a little bit mixed up inside at the moment, and that’s understandable after years of CEO changes and board shakeups, product rollouts and rollbacks. But the company remains a printing powerhouse: it ships a million printers a week netting nearly a billion dollars in revenue each quarter. If it decided to enter the consumer 3D printing market in a big way, it could, quickly and efficiently.
But wait, is there a consumer market for 3D printing?
Build it and they will come
You obviously can’t value the market, since there are no products out there for the audience I’m proposing: the same consumers who bought inkjet printers en masse ten to fifteen years ago. Can you quantify demand? Well I think that’s hard too: in your classic AIDA sales model people have to be Aware of the opportunity before they can be Interested, demonstrate Desire and ultimately take Action. I still regularly have to explain to people what 3D printing is — smart, informed people too, not backwater technophobes.
But just imagine this: 3D printed Pokemon.
Imagine you could create a game franchise based on collectables that could only be 3D printed. Maybe throw in some puzzle or educational elements to give the kids some leverage over their parents. Back it with a TV series — maybe even just release an animated series direct through YouTube.
Can you imagine the demand that could create, correctly executed?
Revenues for the Pokemon franchise to date were estimated by Le Monde at $30bn. That’s one hell of a marketing tool.
If you can get a 3D printer to market at under the £400 mark with reasonable resolution and the right marketing behind it, I strongly believe you are onto a winner. It’s price comparable with a console and kids don’t seem to have much trouble persuading their parents to shell out for one of those.
It is probably only HP that has the scale, marketing clout and distribution power to do it right. So this is my message to HP: just do it. Redirect some of those massive R&D and marketing budgets and make it happen.