What’s the difference between a consumer 3D printer and a commercial desktop printer? And furthermore, what’s the difference between a desktop printer and a low-cost 3D printer? One more question might be what does a 3D printer have to cost to be considered low cost?
A few blogs ago I raised the question: How far-fetched is consumer 3D printing? The majority of response was that consumer 3D printing is probably a ways off. Some, however, took my blog to mean that desktop and low-cost printers are far out in the future as well. Since there are currently sub-$5,000 printers on the market (low cost) and several that fit quite nicely on a desktop, I believe that my previous blog posting on the subject was misunderstood.
So I ask the question: Is a desktop 3D printer a consumer printer? Is a sub-$5,000 3D printer a consumer printer? My option is that while both criteria might be necessary for a consumer product, neither makes it so. A consumer 3D printer is one purchased and used for, well, consumer use. The assumption is that a homeowner, for instance, would purchase the 3D printer and use it for printing whatever they might have a need for. On the other hand, a commercial 3D printer could be low cost, desktop, or both. So, if low-cost desktop printers are not slated for the average consumer in the next few years, at least not in 2011, who are they for?
One of the debates today is about the part quality and resolution produced by the very low cost offerings on the market. Is this quality good enough for commercial use? I would argue that in some industries and for some applications it might be. But higher resolution, surface finish, accuracy, etc… are more useful to more designers in far more applications. While the current low-cost devices might be suitable for limited applications, a high-quality low-cost printer would make the technology more accessible to a much greater number of designers, engineers, architects, and other professionals.
That leaves the last question. What price does a fully featured 3D printer have to be in order to be called low cost?
I am responsible for leading 3D Systems content creation and capture activities and, in partnership with business and functional leaders, developing new opportunities for the company. I have held a variety of leadership positions in marketing and business development and most recently ran a $150MM division of Church & Dwight, a leading consumer goods company. Prior to receiving my M.B.A from Harvard Business School, I was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal company commander for the U.S. Army. I graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.
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