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The 3D printing revolution - can you see a future?

07 Jul 14

Murray Clark, Ricoh marketing manager, discusses 3D printing and why it’s important to be part of the $2.2 billion (and growing) industry.

A few years ago if you talked about 3D printing you would have probably received a glazed look. Today, it’s the latest craze that looks set to be around for the long haul.

With a 3D printer it’s now possible to make objects on your desktop using a printer the size of a microwave oven. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s definitely the here and now.

Every organisation wants to meet the needs of its customers and to do this they need to look to the future.

That’s precisely what we did a year ago when we began considering bringing 3D printers, with full service and support, into the New Zealand market.

We chose the award-winning Makerbot range and last year Ricoh was announced as the agent in New Zealand. Founded in 2009, Makerbot has grown to be the global leader in desktop 3D printing with an estimated 25% share of the overall market.

So just how big is the 3D printing market? A recent Herald article estimated the industry was worth $2.2 billion, up 29% from 2011.

In this industry it seems fast is an understatement; it’s predicted the industry will be worth $8.4 billion in 2025 if medical uses are developed. 3D printers empower people to create and repair things easily.

One-off or short run objects can be made easily and prototyping is a breeze. We have a customer using their 3D printers to create scale models of interior office fit outs and an industrial engineer who is making functional working prototypes literally overnight.

Education and demonstration

Selling 3D printers is very different to selling traditional office printers. We’ve found that education and demonstration have been a huge part of the process; customers need to see the printer in action and they also need to be educated about its myriad uses.

While in general you don’t need to be a designer to use a 3D printer, feedback from those without design experience is that they’re not sure where to start.

They commonly have two or three things they’d like to print, but aren’t sure where to go to get ready-made files or what software to use to create their own.

The good news is there are many websites with ready-made files of things to print for free and, for those who like to create their own files, there’s also free software such as Autodesk 123D Design and FreeCAD. 3D printing has completely changed the rules by mainstreaming technology that was once the preserve of specialists.

It’s also connected with the Kiwi DIY spirit and is a way of working that’s really only scratched the surface of possibility.

Watch this space...