Searching For The 3D Printing Application Layer

I’m searching for today, instead I found tomorrow.

– Lil Wayne (Nightmares of the Bottom)

Additive manufacturing technologies like Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) are enabling enhancements to way we manufacture physical goods. The biggest issue is that few companies have found and commercialized products that can be mass-manufactured profitably using today’s 3D printing technologies. Either they need to be able to produce the parts at a lower cost or with features that aren’t possible with traditional manufacturing techniques. Much like when the iPhone first came out and there were very few applications, it took years for an “application layer” to emerge which leveraged the technology to create value in different verticals.

People are experimenting with different 3D printed products now, from fashion to aviation and everything in between. There are a few use cases where 3D printing has advantages over traditional manufacturers:

  1. Need for customization – We’re talking about where customization is either required or adds significant value. Braces, hearing aids, prosthetics, art and orthotics are all good examples. Bad examples include coffee mugs and iPhone cases, customizing as a novelty is not a long term competitive advantage.
  2. Designs that can only be made with 3D printers – Complex meshes, intricate internals and other features are sometimes only possible with additive manufacture. This art piece is a good example. When those features also add a competitive advantage to the product, then it creates real differentiation.
  3. Cost effective – In some cases, 3D printing is actually cheaper than traditional manufacturing. This is rare, but will be less so as the technology develops.

Obviously I think Sols is a perfect fit in buckets 1 & 2 and probably fits in bucket 3 against some of our competitors products (but not all). I’d love to hear about other products that people think are a fit.

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Searching For The 3D Printing Application Layer

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