Responses to Amazon.com’s Investment in 3D Manufacturing

By | March 24, 2015

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about Amazon’s investment in 3D printing and the patent it filed for mobile manufacturing so it can print orders on demand close to the delivery location. The question was how it would affect the printing industry . . . if at all. I didn’t manage to get people to chime in here, but when I shared the post on LinkedIn, I did.

What continues to interest me is how this industry appears to be focusing almost exclusively on the 3D manufacture of parts, even though 3D printing offers a wide variety of other avenues for business growth.

Here is a sampling of the responses I got from one of the discussion boards. Do you agree?

“Heidi, your comment is spot-on from my perspective: ‘This continues to move printers into the position of being idea generators and developers of more complex solutions, not pure output providers.’ As long as printers are content to simply execute the products of other peoples imaginations, they will be highly vulnerable to mass and scale.” — Paul Gardner, director of innovation, Hudson Printing

“Don’t you see this going down the road of photo books? It will get hot and heavy and then it will slowly fizzle. A bobblehead isn’t that useful. The real market for this stuff is to reduce warehousing and that is at least 10 years and this patent will be long expired. I see [the real volume] going to the machine shops, and printers might not be in the mix. The real exciting parts require more finishing than can be done at a print provider — i.e. metal printers.” — Kevin Waldvogel, account executive, Big Systems

“Unless they’re building a printer that can print in aluminum, brass, and bronze, I’m a little reticent to embrace 3D printing for anything but art projects, prototyping, and mold making. What good is a plastic pulley unless you’re using it as a master to make cast metal ones? On the other hand, if you were an auto parts store and you had a 3d printer that made metal parts plus a computer full of design files for classic car parts, you’d make so much money you’d have to 3D print a scale to count it all.” — Jim Mowreader, pagination technician, Hagadone Printing Company

“There are more than 100 different materials that can be 3D printed. And that’s before you count chocolate, coffee, and human skin. Aluminum, brass, and bronze are among them, as are ceramic and sandstone (http://www.shapeways.com/materials).” — Paul Gardner, Hudson Printing

“I think Amazon made a very wise choice. 3D printing has been around for quite some time, but now it’s on the rise in the industry. I am incessantly amazed by the components it produces. The pharma industry alone can gain so much by the 3D process. I would love to work on a 3D project from inception to completion. Kudos to Amazon!” — Cheryl Ann, cross-functional media, automation, and printing professional

“I think this is a major step forward. Just as authors make deals with Amazon to print books, now parts designers will upload designs and Amazon can fulfill them. Carbon fiber 3D printing with considerable strength is upon us. The ability to have a catalog of parts that are 3D printed on demand is a major advancement.” — Douglas Cogan, vice president, VDP technology at PTI Marketing Technologies

“The mobile facility bit sounds like work that is all ready happening. Patenting the process could be a way for Amazon to squeeze out competitors. The author mentions sending off an STL file to be output. As I understand it, STL carries no color information, it is only the shape. That would take this out of the realm of bobble heads. Looking at the Shapeways link that Paul posted, many of the materials are cast from a piece that is 3D printed. They’re using a lost-wax process. Their tolerances, +/- 1%, won’t compete with regular machining tolerances, yet.” — Rich Apollo, field services manager, Rods and Cones

“Amazon at present is the world’s largest reseller of consumer 3D printers and has been at this for several years. However, for production, what they are doing isn’t exactly new. Redeye, a Stratasys company has been building on demand for 10 years plus. Other providers are selling on demand builds all over the world. Amazon of course, will have free shipping and the search optimization.” — Craig Greenwood, channel sales manager, Neuralog

“There are many different fields within the commercial print sector. From commercial, web, laminating, finishing, binding, the list goes on and on .As a commercial printer with digital and wide format, I can’t see where 3D would fit in or add to our fire power. So the answer is, it will not affect your run-of-the-mill commercial printer at all. Nor will it affect any of the above mentioned sectors within the print industry.” — Dave Biddiscombe, production manager, Printmates

“I could see some specialized firms utilizing Amazon’s service or offer the service in-house. One that comes to mind is a firm in my area that specializes in reprographic services of architectural/engineering drawings. They also build architectural 3D prototypes by printing onto foam core (I believe), cut, and piece the prototype together like a puzzle. A 3D printing service like Amazon’s might compliment their existing services. However, in terms of ‘traditional’ printing, I agree with Dave.” — William Grant, Revved up print project manager, supercharging the production and management of print products

“Absolutely. I’ve thought for a long time that the role of commercial printers — in their role as MSPs — is as idea generators, helping their clients find ways to incorporate 3D printing into their overall marketing and other projects, but that the actual design and production would likely be outsourced (especially the design portion). Printers outsource many other services that are still part of their core offerings. Why not 3D?” — Heidi Tolliver-Walker

“I have just been in contact with one of our clients (a family butcher) and asked him if he would like a 3D aluminium pork chop to put on his counter to try and raise sales as he hasn’t been selling much of late. I gave him a ball park figure. Unfortunately, I can’t print his reply.” — Dave Biddiscombe, Printmates

“Understood (and thanks for not printing the reply)!” — Heidi Tolliver-Walker

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