With over 900 3D printers out in the market, choosing one that will suit your needs can be a nightmare for anyone. In this episode, Tom and Tracy Hazzard talk about the 3D printer overload and a 3D print market desperately trying to cope up where the business is. Get to know their take on the number of players in the market and why most newcomers lose traction in product specification and quality. Tom and Tracy also share their tactics – from running and testing to going to 3D hubs and checking out the best printers – that may help you decide which printer suits you best.
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3D Printer Overload
This is the Ask Us Anything Segment. After the interview with Aniwaa and learning about how many printers, scanners, software, and everything they have in their database as it exists now.
It’s 926 3D printers. My mind is blown.
I feel like we’re having 3D printer overload.
How do we sort through all of that?
Every week on Kickstarter or in the media, there’s another press release or announcement about another new 3D printer hitting the market.
We saw a few at CES that are startups and are going to be coming on the market. They’re probably not even in the database yet because they don’t even have full websites yet.
Blue Dragon is not there yet, they’re new, among others. That’s the thing that struck us, it’s how does anybody keep track of this and sort it all out?
Aniwaa is keeping track of it in a database.
On a list, but they haven’t tested all those. They don’t know if they are any good.
We’re creating a complete consumer and corporate because it’s prosumer overload and confusion. That’s not helpful.
The market is large and it is continuing to grow as we’ve learned from companies that are in the space. 2015 was a tough year for some of these companies that maybe got too big too fast but the market is still there and it is continuing to grow. In some ways, there is room in the market for a lot of players, but I don’t know if long-term, these many players.
Tapping into our previous discussion about consumer versus prosumer. Every time we go to a different trade show, we keep hearing, “The education market is the hot thing. We’re heavy in education, in automotive or in aerospace.” They’re all switching around because they’re desperately seeking wherever the business is.
I agree that the education market is huge and it is big. It’s where a lot of companies are focusing their attention.
It’s one of those things where if you’re confused by what your feature is, what your big selling point is, then you’re confused about who you’re selling to. That’s what I see happening with so many of these printer companies and why I don’t think a lot of them are going to make it at the end of the day.
Especially for some of the ones that are particularly focused on a certain technical incremental advantage over others. That may get your foot in the door, but I don’t know that if it has real staying power.
A lot of these printers, they don’t have anything even technically great about them. Those are all off the shelf parts. These are all based on the same RepRap stuff.
It’s the same stepper motors.
Maybe they’re buying them in volume and they’re getting the price cheaper than some other companies or the housing looks different, but it’s just not enough to build a following that’s going to be necessary to make a significant impact in this market.
The only new printer that I know of and it’s just because we happen to know a little bit about it, that this Blue Dragon printer, they’re using different stepper motors from a completely new source that has a lot more steps in every 360 degrees. Therefore, they can be more accurate, but they may not be any faster. We haven’t tested this printer yet.
At the end of the day, that’s still an open line. It’s not exclusive.
They didn’t invent the motors.
That means that all the other companies can start upgrading and following. In that sense, you’re down to who has the best brand awareness, who has the best sales and marketing budget. That’s what it’s going to step down to. That’s scary because that has nothing to do with what makes the printer better and run better.
What does this mean? The news that came out that 3D Systems is getting out of the consumer cube printer?
We talked about that in great detail, but in this particular case, you better know what your focus is. Because you better know what features are going to appeal to that prosumer or that consumer market here and you better be marketing completely to that alone. You better be building the features into your printer, they better show up when you run the Aniwaa comparison chart. You better compare against the other printers that are being sold into that market as well. It makes it difficult.
I always am trying to cooperate with other companies, because I think there’s room for a lot of people in this space and we don’t all have to be hard competitors trying to beat each other up, but it seems that there’s got to be more of a natural selection that’s going to take place.
There’s room. I think it has to go beyond the printers and their features and that depends on your market. If your market is that education market, and you’re offering greater value in terms of support, greater value in terms of service. You’re bundled with great packages of teaching programs or you’ve got a printer that’s consumer-focused and you’ve got it bundled with great 3D designs that somebody wants to print. Now, you have something to differentiate yourself.
It’s about the whole package, the whole ecosystem.
That may not show up on Aniwaa’s feature report because it’s not there, but maybe that’s one that they can add in the future. What else does it come with? What else is it bundled with?
That needs to be something that everybody thinks about as they’re shopping for 3D printers and they’re comparing one company to another, “The printer on its face may be better in one way or another, but where’s the rest of it? Does the company have good customer service? Do they have a good ecosystem?” Depending on your needs, if you’re in education or you’re in a professional and business, you know what’s behind the printer, what is backing it up?
This is where it comes back to local support again. When you have someone you’re talking to that is helping you with the local support of it. They’re selling it to you, they’re going to be there for you to back you up and help you learn how to use it. That’s great. That’s better than just buying the cheapest printer online. You have to think about it especially if it’s your first printer or if you’re going to standardize on a printer. You bring in one, test it out, try it out and then you’re going to standardize the district you’re in on or your company in on it. Do you have to look at that as the whole picture, is someone there for you?
Especially with this 3D printer overload, if you’re in the market for a printer, you’re testing one out and you’re considering it for a larger purchase. Whether it’s for your school district or your business because you’re going to build a printer farm, you need to buy that first printer knowing how much time do you have to use it before you can return it and get a refund? Is that two weeks? Is it a month? Is it more than a month? We did this twice. We did two different printers that we bought because we were sold on the specifications and the technical capabilities. At the end of the day, the printer still was not a good fit for what we print.
I don’t want to go as far as to say that it was deceptive. They were technically capable of it, but they were not technically capable of creating what we wanted to create with that detail.
The small layer thickness, it’s capable of doing that, but there are other aspects of the printer that affect whether it’s capable of making the particular geometry that we print at that layer thickness.
It’s capable of doing it but at 1/3 the speed. In the end, it’s not economical for you. Just having that box checked doesn’t mean it’s right. That’s one of the key things you have to look at when you’re evaluating a printer. When you can go and see one in person, go and try the results from it. That’s critical.
We did this with two different printers. One we bought and then we tested it and tested it. Within those 30 days, we were able to determine, “This just isn’t going to work for our business.” We returned it. The second one we bought from a company in Europe and had it shipped to the United States. The reality was, we knew when we bought it, we couldn’t return it. That was not going to be easy to do. We ended up selling that second hand to somebody. We didn’t completely eat all that money, we probably paid a fair value for essentially renting it over that time. We sold it to somebody that was able to use it and it was a fit for what they needed. We weren’t just dumping something on somebody else. It was a win-win situation, but these are some of the tough things you’ve got to work through. Some of these smaller companies, especially among those 926 printers that we talked about are not big enough companies to have a 30-day return policy. A lot of these are startups.
Have a dealer with the support structure to buy it back from you.
A dealer who might be able to have another customer to resell it to that can use it. Those are some of the things you need to think about. It definitely has to be buyer beware but also buyer research and test. Try and figure out a way that you can do that.
There are a couple of ways. Using 3D Hubs is a great way. If you want to test out whether or not your thing that you want to print prints well on a certain type of printer, have a couple of different people in the 3D Hubs print it for you. I wouldn’t go with one, I might go with two. If you know you want to try out an Ultimaker or whatever it is the type of printer, find two highly rated hub printers and test it on both. Sometimes it’s the skill of the person and you want to remove that variable by testing it in a couple of places. That’s a low-cost way or maybe it costs you $50 for a part. It’s way cheaper than a couple thousand for a printer that’s not right for you and a month.
Then the hassle of trying to either return or resell that printer. Your time is money, you could quickly end up in a bad situation.
That’s one good way to do it is to just use the hub to test your what and make sure that’s right. When you dial that in, then go somewhere to see it like a local dealer or somebody else who has the printer. You’d be surprised, Ultimaker has a great forum. If you said, “Who in Irvine, California has an Ultimaker that I can touch base with and see?” I guarantee you, they’d open up their house, their office to you and let you come in and see it. 3D printers, we’re evangelists out here. We want everybody to be 3D print converted. We’re happy to share.
Somebody that has one is pretty good at it. People like to talk about what they’re doing and show off what they do. They would be receptive to sharing and helping.
It’s a great way to pick up somebody who’s going to back you up when you do buy the printer.
You want and you need to be a part of that community. You need that kind of support as well.
The third thing is the dealers. If you go to someone who has a deal or like 3D Printlife, our friend Buzz Baldwin over there. They have an awesome support services and everything. I guarantee you if it was a big enough order for education or whatever, he’s going to bring one of his test printers in. He’s going to bring one of his demo printers in and let you guys use it for a while. You can ask that and if it’s possible, they’ll do it.
Let’s not forget, if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, USCutter. They’re a dealer that does a lot more than just 3D printing. They are a big company that has a lot of resources to bring to bear on the situation, to not only help you be successful as a printer but if you’re not, they’ll help you through that. Also, they do have demo printers.
Here in Irvine, technically for us, but right here in Orange County, California. We have MatterHackers who have a lot of printers there. They’re happy to have you in their offices to try stuff out and look at it and run your prints for you. They were supportive of us when we were looking at prints.
They’ve just moved to a new location, still in Lake Forest but a much larger location. I’ve been there. They had an open house and they have quite a robust lab where they’re running and testing printers and helping people make those right decisions for what fits for them. Use those resources.
Help sort through the 926 so you don’t get overwhelmed and you don’t get 3D printer overload.
I was getting overload just thinking about it in the middle of that interview. That was quite something.
Anyway, if you have any questions or you have anything you want to tell us about a great printer you tried, a great dealer or something like that, please find us on social media and tweet us at @HazzDesign. Send us an Instagram or Facebook us.
Thanks again for reading.
- Aniwaa – previous episode
- 3D Hubs
- 3D Printlife
- @HazzDesign – Twitter
- Instagram – Tracy Hazzard
- Facebook – Hazz Design
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