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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'

In the hunt for the "killer application," many 3D printer manufacturers have attempted to link the machines with video games, enabling players to print characters and scene-setting models.

"Which certainly eventually could happen, but we don't see it in the near term," Greene said. "So, while I'd never say never, I think the lack of the real 'gotta have it' application for consumer 3D printing limits the potential for the consumer side for now."

Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, an independent consulting firm, said the consumer 3D printer market is hampered more by a reason to exist and less by a lack of affordable technology.

Mattel to the rescue

"I would argue that a consumer 3D printer does not yet exist," Wohlers said. "This could change when Mattel introduces its new ThingMaker later this year."

In February, Mattel announced it had reinvented its iconic ThingMaker at-home toy-making device, this time as a 3D printer that will cost $300.

Mattel unveiled its 3D printer at the New York Toy Fair, and it is already taking pre-orders for the machine, which will be available Oct. 15. (See pricing).

Mattel 3D printer Thingmaker
Mattel Inc.

The ThingMaker Design App allows you to download files to iOS or Android devices and then upload them to the 3D printer to create toys.

"For 15-plus years, I've believed that children could become a large market because they are creative, like to make objects, and entertain themselves," Wohlers said. "New software tools for creating 3D content, coupled with products for children, such as the ThingMaker, could change the landscape some."

Meanwhile, Wohlers said, most consumers will purchase 3D-printed parts and products online and at shops and stores -- products designed by professionals on industrial-grade machines.

In addition to a lack of use cases, the consumer 3D printer has become a low-margin product, as Chinese equipment and filament manufacturers have combined with multiple distribution channels (including to create a segment where it is really hard to achieve profit margins, Greene said.

"In turn, this has made companies like 3D Systems and Ultimaker re-think some of their product and areas of focus," Greene said. "Furthermore, there is a growing number of online 3D printing services like Sculpteo [and] Shapeways...that make it so fast and easy for consumers to get their stuff 3D printed that it seems like consumers don't need their own 3D printer."

In May, Ultimaker and Ultimaker added the Ultimaker 2+, which sports a price tag  more than twice the original $999 Ultimaker.


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