3D Systems, a leader in 3D printing along with Stratasys, continues to try to find a foothold amid wild fluctuations in its business. Just last quarter, the company reported a staggering $604 million loss. Its longtime leader of 12 years, Avi Reichental, gave up the reins to a new CEO, whose main job seems to be to plot a new strategy.
3D Systems decked out this car, a Nissan Cube, for a nationwide tour of its own Cube, a $995 3D printer for consumers, now discontinued. (Image courtesy of Daniel Terdiman/CNET.)
The old strategy seemed something like this: Let’s get 3D printers into every home and office. The company could very well have overextended itself chasing that dream. For a long time, that really looked like a dream worth chasing. There was a fever that befell us — one that has not yet subsided. Everything was going to be 3D printed: good stuff, such as birthday cakes and human livers, and bad stuff like guns. The media was going crazy.
But, in the end, consumers never really bought in. Even at $995, a 3D printer is a very expensive piece of home equipment. Making things with it was a bit complicated — and messy. And what was there to 3D print, anyway? Maybe you bought it to make a knob to replace the broken one on your range. But you couldn’t simply push a button on the 3D printer to make the part. There were no instructions, either. A Google search revealed geeks talking about 3D scanners (more expense) and CAD programs. Don’t you have to be an engineer to operate those? You weren’t going to take a course to learn how to operate the thing. It was back to making little monsters or some other little stock figurine from a little toy, from a model library that came with the machine, before it took a place in the garage next to the treadmill, another expensive piece of equipment with high hopes. And there they sit, awaiting the next yard sale and the next sucker.
3D Systems now faces a struggle as it tries to right itself and rebrand itself as a for-business company.
What Do Consumers Do Again?
3D Systems may have found out the hard way the very nature of consumers. They consume. And they are quite content to keep consuming. Whether it’s food, entertainment, sports or hard goods, there are many more of us who will consume for the few of us who will create.
3D Systems, and other companies have sought to bring out our inner maker, to uncover the Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs hiding in each of us, thinking that each of us had in us an invention, something that we were just dying to make, or even duplicate. Give us the means, and we would flood the world with a collective, universal surge of creativity. Oh, all the things we could do if we just had no barriers to the production of the hitherto unrealized designs and ambitions.
We must be quite a disappointment.