Tag Archives: Imaging

Tech Predictions 2018

Every year, our analyst teams come together to identify technology trends they see emerging in the coming 12 months. This is a collection of these across a number of different markets.

CONTEXTpredictions3

PCs
PC sales across Europe are expected to benefit from a return to growth of commercial PCs, driven by faster upgrades to Windows 10 machines across the region and the replacement of an ageing PC base in some countries. PC refreshes will drive growing sales of thin and light ultramobile notebook and hybrid devices, but will also benefit deskbound systems, as a large proportion of commercially installed machines continue to be of this type. Even in 2017, the shift in business desktop sales towards small space-saving form factors presented a growth opportunity, and this is expected to be ongoing in 2018.

Consumer sales are likely to remain challenged as users increasingly hold on to their traditional PCs for a longer period and rely on smartphones for many of their day-to-day tasks. However, sub-segments of this market – including gaming PCs, high-end notebooks and ultramobile devices such as convertible laptops – are expected to continue to grow. While these currently make up a small part of the overall market, they present strong opportunities for revenue and margin growth.

Enterprise Technology
In 2018, cloudification will speed up greatly as services such as IAAS (infrastructure as a service), PAAS (platform as a service) and SAAS (software as a service) are increasingly adopted across the Enterprise sector.

An early consequence, one that has already begun, is a complete redefinition of the traditional market segmentation into server, storage and networking products. As convergence and scalability become increasingly important, enterprise systems will continue their migration from in-house systems to data centres.

Another consequence is the complete change in how products are paid for. In the past, clients purchased individual products with a one-off payment, whereas they are increasingly paying a monthly subscription for cloud licences with, in some cases, the hardware included “for free”.

The huge and increasing success of cloud providers such as Amazon Web services has left us with no doubt about the future of the IT business environment: it is already clear that, within a few years, most processing power (and, as a result, most hardware) will have left the office and migrated entirely to data centres.

CONTEXTpredictions1

Displays
Desktop monitor sales in 2018 are expected to be slower than this year, following PC-demand trends. On the positive side, however, business-targeted monitor sales may benefit from the PC refresh that is expected in the commercial space. Moreover, the rise of esports will continue to drive revenues, especially those from consumer-targeted high-end monitors. The gaming market serves a still-nascent industry, which has significant room to grow and provides a variety of revenue streams. Therefore, more monitor vendors will shift towards this market and offer a larger number of premium models. Increased demand for specialised features like 4K/UHD resolution, higher refresh rates, wide colour gamut and alternative form factors such as large ultra-wide or curved monitors, will increase average sale prices (ASPs) and margin opportunities.

Digital signage will remain a key driver for large-format displays (LFD). Standalone LCD displays will continue to hold the largest market share; however, videowalls and the direct-view LED technology currently used in various public outdoor applications will start to challenge their position. LFD vendors will direct their focus towards other emerging and untapped areas such as industrial manufacturing and BFSI*, and continue to compete in already thriving markets including the retail space – where LFDs enhance customer experience – as well as the education and corporate arenas. Increased competition between vendors and a greater variety of LFDs will result in more affordable pricing and continue to spur volume sales.
*banking, financial services and insurance

Imaging
Printer hardware sales are expected to contract overall although, due to the ongoing shift towards multifunction and colour devices, some segments are expected to grow in 2018 including multifunction colour laser printers and, at a slower pace, high-capacity business inkjets.

Consolidation in the market and the transition towards a contractual business model continues, so unified platforms, security, digitisation, customisation and automation of those processes via services and solutions hold plenty of opportunities for vendors and their business partners to grow by adding value for their customers and increasing their productivity and efficiency.

In 2017, we’ve seen most vendors refresh their product portfolios and introduce even more reliable, secure devices that use various new technologies and offer lower cost of ownership and higher print speeds. Vendors continue to increase their focus on engaging with channel partners to target SMBs. HP’s acquisition of Samsung’s printing business is now complete and the company has started shipping its new A3 products. It is expected that sales of these will accelerate and increase competition in the A3 copier market – a space to watch in 2018.

3D Printing
Industrial space
HP will lead the way in seeing if industrial 3D printing of plastics can turn the same corner as metal 3D printing: away from being used just for prototyping and into manufacturing. HP is also to introduce a new technology in 2018 through which it will begin to set its sights on metal 3D printing.

As the other new kid on the block, the very visible and recognisable brand GE continues to gain share and will help push 3D printing even more into the mainstream and grow the market. GE acquired two of the top companies making industrial metal 3D printers last year and will carry on championing the technology internally as well as sell their printers to others. Their use of metal 3D Printing to make real jet engine parts continues to be the “poster child” demonstrating how 3D printing can disrupt supply chains and the $12T global manufacturing market. In 2018, they will push the boundaries further in aerospace as well as in the automotive and healthcare industries.

After seeing fewer printers ship worldwide each year for the last few years, the industrial side of the market will move back into growth thanks to new technologies (such as from Carbon) and big brands (HP, GE, Deloitte, etc.).

During 2018, we will see the emergence of a new class of low-end industrial metal 3D printing machines. While these are, of course, not for the masses (“low-end” in this context still means ~$150k), this new class includes $1M machines that will allow more companies to experiment with 3D printing in ways that were previously out of reach for most of them.

Desktop space
While they have not yet become a “consumer” good, desktop 3D printers have continued the unfettered growth in shipments that has been seen since the market began – it is projected to reach +39% by the end of 2017 and to continue into next year. Familiar brands, such as Kodak and Polaroid, will come to market in some regions, but this side of the market will continue to be dominated by companies like Monoprice, XYZprinting, Ultimaker and Formlabs that have a strong presence in 3D printing but are mostly unknown outside the sector.

This class of products has traditionally been defined simply as printers selling below $5K. However, growth in this sector means further refinement and stratification is needed to follow the market and the $2,500 barrier is now used to define this low end. In 2017, a new professional space emerged containing products in the $2,500 to $20,000 range (consisting of both higher-end desktop 3D printers and lower-end industrial printers). During the first half of 2017, this class grew by 64% and strong growth is also projected for 2018.

Virtual Reality & Gaming
Gaming looks to continue its healthy growth next year, with help from spectator-friendly formats such as streaming and esports – both of which provide sponsorship opportunities –gaining mind share among younger tech-savvy consumers. The recent upset over microtransactions, brought to a head by EA’s mis-steps on Star Wars Battlefront II, are symptomatic of gamers’ growing unrest about business practices they perceive as predatory, so expect rebalancing in 2018. This is unlikely to significantly depress profits but may, in the long term, lead to a healthier gaming ecosystem.

The push for 4K gaming consoles is likely to encourage an increased focus on the same potential in gaming desktop PCs, driving both display and GPU sales. Meanwhile, the recent surprise collaboration between Intel and AMD to produce integrated chips with high-end graphics capabilities feeds well into the already growing gaming laptop market, so expect the emergence of more thin, light and powerful laptops targeted at gamers.

On the VR front, 2017 ends with many new contenders entering the market and established brands teasing new hardware and this means 2018 will be a year of fragmentation for VR in the west. Whether any of these will catch the attention of the mainstream will depend on various factors, although Oculus’s imminent, lower-priced, Go is likely to be a firm favourite. As prices for high-end headsets fall and more big budget games are released, gamers are finding it increasingly easy to justify VR purchases. With luck, this will fuel a virtuous circle for both consumers and content producers.

Also, expect to see a steady flow of interesting bespoke enterprise VR applications next year, but don’t hold your breath for a single stand-out business headset or killer application – unless Magic Leap’s mysterious headset manages to make it to market and live up to the promises and hype.

image2

Retail
Mobility will continue to gain importance and be a key success factor for retailers. Current estimates indicate that more than 50% of purchases involve the customer using a mobile phone for search, research or purchase. With online activity continuing to rise, retailers must optimise their websites for mobile in order to engage consumers early and often in their purchase journey.

Consumer expectations for omnichannel options continue to rise. The fastest-growing retail option is click to purchase and collect in store. Click and collect now accounts for more than 30% of sales in many stores, and is rising across retail in Europe. A critical success factor is the accuracy and efficiency of the collection process, with more stores having dedicated collection areas. More retailers will also collaborate with distributors for drop shipments in order to extend product range, and enable fulfilment to travel the last mile to the customer’s door.

Retailers are making up for declining unit volume sales through selling more premium devices: gaming PCs, 2-in-1 notebooks and ultramobile notebooks. A key to selling a premium mix is leveraging stores to create an experience consumers cannot get online. Successful retailers are moving beyond products and selling a larger, more profitable market basket by focusing on solutions and services that are not available online.

Leave a comment

Filed under 3D Printing, Displays, Imaging, Immersive technology, Market Analysis, PCs, Retail, Smart Technology

Don’t dismiss the Printer

I wondered why IT sales are doing so well, despite these extraordinary, uncertain times with Brexit, growing isolationism across the rest of Europe and insults thrown between Trump and Korea. According to the latest figures from the CONTEXT Distribution panel, revenues are up in the Eurozone by 6.7% compared to last year, with the UK steaming ahead with revenue growth of nearly 13%.

My colleagues are often blogging about the exciting new or “interesting” products that start to appear in our sales data – wearable devices, 3D printers, games consoles, mobile phones. Printers, on the other hand, can sometimes be overlooked but this is a market not to be ignored. In fact, in Germany, which represents around 20% of all revenues we pick up from the Distribution channel for IT products, Printing Consumables is ranked 2nd, behind only mobile computing. A similar picture emerges for France and the UK.

So, what is impacting the print market at the moment? We notice, particularly in the UK, workplaces transforming as millennials are looking beyond the traditional office. Working from home is increasing motivation and productivity and new technology is changing the way we work. Vendors are faced with new opportunities, and are rising to the challenge of how to best support the customers’ needs, be it savings on print costs, digitization, unified platforms – essentially, solutions for wherever your ‘office’ is at this precise moment.

Each quarter, the shift is moving from single to multi-function printers. We demand more from a printer than just printing. Unit sales of Inkjet and Laser multi-function printers grew around 6% in Q1 this year and now account for around 70% of all printers sold in Western Europe.

Inkjets are marking their return in the B2B sector with consistent double digit revenue growth of both the consumer and the business inkjets since Q2 2016. With more emphasis on lower print costs for businesses, vendors, particularly Epson and HP, are moving further into the higher price bands with revenues for business inkjets over Euro 400 growing by 37% year-on-year in Q1 2017. Business inkjets now account for almost 40% of all printer revenue in the SMB channel.

Finally, we’re also seeing a return in consumer confidence in some of the countries that have been struggling in the last couple of years. Spain has demonstrated an overall growth year-on-year of 16% in the print market, with a 12% growth in IT sales overall.

So, World disorder? I guess so, but business goes on and the printer market is still alive and well.

by DC

Leave a comment

Filed under Imaging, Market Analysis

Tech Predictions: 2017

Untitled.pngPC’s in 2017
In 2017 European PC sales in the business segment are likely to benefit from a gradual pick up of Windows 10 refreshes. In Western Europe in particular, the commercial PC segment is expected to also benefit from the need for enterprise mobility solutions which will be a co-driver in sales of both notebooks and mobile 2-in-1 products.

The consumer PC segment is expected to remain more challenged across Western Europe. There is a possibility that component shortages, which impacted product availability in 2H 2016, will lead to price increases in the first half of 2017which could affect demand. However, on a positive note, the market is likely to benefit from continuing high demand for gaming PCs. While this segment remains small in terms of volume, new technologies – including virtual reality – will also drive growth that will have a positive effect on revenue and margins.

From a wider, macroeconomic perspective, PC sales in a number of EMEA countries are likely to continue to be affected by uncertainties including currency fluctuations and political instability.
Marie-Christine Pygott, Senior Analyst, PCs

Blog Banners-View on Apple.png

View on Apple
Although you never know what Apple will pull out of the hat when launching new products, the last few years have been quite staid. The last “new” new Apple product was the Watch: but this was heavily trailered so, when it finally arrived, it wasn’t a surprise. We have waited in vain over the years for an Apple TV, and recently yawned when the new MacBook’s Touchbar was announced. In 2017 we have the prospect of yet another phone, the iPhone 8, and not much else.

Except, after much speculation, Apple has acknowledged for the first time that it is investing in autonomous car technology. In a letter to US transport regulators, Apple said the company was “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”. Apple was first rumoured to be working on an autonomous vehicle in early 2015, when reports suggested that the company already had 600 employees working on an electric car design. Later that year, more rumours suggested that the company hoped to launch an electric car to the public by 2019.

So maybe Apple can surprise us next year. The race for electric vehicles is hotting up, and with the word being that Apple has been in talks to buy luxury-supercar maker McLaren, we may just see a prototype iCar roll onto the stage in 2017 after hearing those words, “one more thing”.
Jeremy Davies, CEO & Co-founder

Enterprise
CONTEXT will be closely tracking the evolution of storage systems and converged architecture: as cloud-managed wireless network service companies slowly but surely replace in-house wireless LAN appliances, we expect continued strong growth on these two fronts. Companies to watch: Cisco Meraki, Open-Mesh, Zebra (part of Extreme Networks), Ruckus.

Sales of solid-state drives (SSDs) have increased throughout 2016 and, for the first time, surpassed those of hard disk drives. As the price of SSDs fall and their capacity increases, 2017 will see this trend continue. In 2014, we predicted that 90% of storage components would be SSDs by 2020, and the industry is well on track to achieve this.
Gurvan Meyer, Senior Research Analyst, Enterprise Team

Blog Banners-Displays.png

Displays
Large Format Display sales in 2017 are expected to continue to grow strongly with demand being driven by the education and corporate sectors. For AV providers, the corporate business market continues to be a huge growth opportunity, with a big shift towards interactive products for meetings rooms, as corporates increasingly collaborate over multiple sites, with numerous remote attendees.  The education market is also expected to be a key driver of growth in the LFD segment with educational institutions increasingly adopting display solutions to change and enhance the ways they communicate with students, staff and visitors.
Lachlan Welsh, Senior Analyst, Displays

Imaging
Printer hardware sales will continue to contract overall, though some segments are expected to register growth in 2017, such as business inkjets with higher end products due to be released in 2017 to compete with laser devices. The shift from hardware to contract sales continues, therefore, the importance of partnerships and focus on channel partners will prevail. HP’s acquisition of Samsung printer business is expected to complete in the second half of 2017, as companies join their efforts aiming to disrupt the A3 copier market business.
Zivile Brazdziunaite, Senior Market Analyst, Imaging

Blog Banners-3D Printing.png

3D Printing
2017 will continue to see the two sides of 3D printing – the personal/desktop side (those under $5,000) and the industrial/professional side – evolve separately.  Desktop 3D printers will become even more affordable (some already cost as little as $300!) while the some of the world’s biggest brands will increase their presence in the Industrial/Professional market where technology will continue to advance and improve.

Desktop market leader XYZprinting has already expanded its brick-and-mortar retail presence – at Best Buy, Toys-R-Us, and Barnes and Noble in the US, and Darty, Dixons and Media Saturn in Europe – and it is expected to continue with aggressive price points in to promote further retail expansion around the globe. Next year will see HP fully enter the 3D printing world with the first shipments of their professional Multi-Jet Fusion 3D Printers, and a new business is to emerge from GE after their acquisition of two of the top five metal 3D printing companies in 2016.  HP and others will champion a change of focus in the plastics 3D printing market from rapid prototyping to mid-range production.
Chris Connery, Vice President Global Analysis and Research

VR & Gaming
The world of eSports will continue to grow in both popularity and recognition, as a movie is planned starring Will Ferrell on the burgeoning phenomenon. Vendors and retailers will pay more attention to PC gaming as the category offers them the chance to make up for losses in a sector which has been declining in the last few years. High average selling prices for gaming products, excellent attach rates and margins for gaming accessories, and the availability of unsecured consumer borrowing will be major drivers. Virtual reality will also continue to grow in the consumer space, although still at a modest pace. However we expect to see more HMDs going into the B2B and corporate reseller channels for which products such as the Hololens are a gift.
Jonathan Wagstaff, Country Manager UK & Ireland

Smart Home – Battle of the Giants
Back in October 2015 we predicted that new forms of control for smart home devices would stimulate growth in the market. We highlighted three: voice activation, gesture recognition and mind control. The first two are already here: voice control has exploded since Amazon launched the Echo in 2016 and 5 million devices have already been sold. We predict that this trend will grow quickly in 2017 with the Amazon Echo continuing to sell and the launch of Google Home in 2017. Google will apply a massive marketing budget – in the US they are already paying for end-of-gondola slots for Google Home devices.

With this in mind, we see four, and potentially five, giants battling for the smart home in 2017: Amazon, Google, Apple (with Homekit), Samsung (with Smart Things) and Microsoft. The ace up their sleeve for Amazon is entertainment (access to Prime Music), for Google it is search, for Apple and Samsung it is interoperability (potentially using the TV), and for Microsoft it is building out from the PC. We are optimistic that consumers will benefit: with a more coherent offer, small start-ups will no longer be able to create proprietary systems and existing systems will make themselves linkable to the big five in order to survive. It is too early to place bets on a winner, but Amazon has rapidly taken advantage of being first-mover. Gesture control will grow and develop in 2017, but mind control will need to wait for another year!
Adam Simon, Head of Retail

Untitled.png

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 3D Printing, Displays, Imaging, IoT, IT Distribution, Mobile technology, PCs, Retail, Smart Home, virtual reality

Thoughts on HP Samsung acquisition

Last month, HP Inc. formally announced its acquisition of Samsung’s printer business in a deal valued at $1.05B – the largest in its history – bringing in 6,500 printing patents, over 1,300 engineers and researchers worldwide, as well as numerous channel partners. The acquisition is expected to be closed within a year, after which Samsung agreed to invest in HP through open market equity purchases of between $100m and $300m.

Their stated ambition? Disruption of the $55B Copier Segment.

But why now? To summarise, as the printed page continues to decline in an era of digitised private and professional communication, printer vendors are fighting it out to sustain revenues and market share. One major opportunity to do so resides in the contractual business space, which holds the promise of additional, ongoing revenues from the sale of supplies and services.

Will it work? Both Samsung and HP have failed in the past to make much headway in a market currently dominated by Xerox, Ricoh, Canon and Konica Minolta. With its acquisition however, HP appears to be in a particularly strong position to accelerate its efforts to crack the copier dealer channel, gain market share, and grow its contractual managed print business.

Indeed, combining Samsung’s A3 know how with its own proprietary technology, HP Inc. is confident that they have a strong value proposition and strategy in place to disturb the copier market space. Its new A3 LaserJet and Page Wide printers mount a comprehensive challenge to A3 incumbents: plugging the gaps in its portfolio, and offering reduced cost per page, affordable colour printing, as well as lower servicing costs for partners.

This being said, these are still early days. Certainly, HP Inc.’s strategy is appropriate, and their offering meets market demands. It is hard however to predict how the channel and HP Inc.’s competitors will respond, and the extent to which they will be able to effectively leverage Samsung’s technology, people, and channel partnerships – a space therefore to watch closely.

by ZB

Leave a comment

Filed under Imaging

3D Printing: Gaining Insights at IMTS and TCT

As head of global analysis and research at CONTEXT I probably spend more time than I’d like in front of a computer screen. But as any analyst will tell you, staring at online spreadsheets is only part of the job. To really understand the industry you need to meet the key players that work in it. Trade shows are a major part of this so it was great to get out recently to two of the biggest around: The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago and TCT in the UK.

I gained some invaluable insight into the industrial and personal IT space, meeting key executives at some of the biggest names in the business, engaging with prospective customers and presenting to attendees.

3DP on the rise
IMTS is a six-day event only held once every two years, so you know it’s going to be big. This year around 115,000 attendees came to Chicago from all over the globe and the focus for many was on 3D printing (3DP) and additive manufacturing (AM). In fact, AM now has its own dedicated front-and-centre section at the show, highlighting the major $5 billion contribution it makes to the total global manufacturing tech market of around $12 billion.

General Electric’s acquisition of the number two and four metal 3D printer makers – SLM Solutions and Arcam AB – for $1.4bn last month continues to validate this market. As did the firm’s joint $81m investment with several other players in plastics 3D printer business Carbon3D. Much of the show focused on where AM goes next – ie whether AM for plastics, which makes up 90% of unit volume and two thirds of global revenues, can move from being used principally for prototyping to short/mid-run manufacturing. We also heard about the role of 3DP and AM in Industry 4.0, which will certainly be one to watch for the future.

The number two 3DP market player, 3D Systems hosted a full day conference at the show where new president and CEO, VJ Joshi introduced an almost entirely new management team to analysts, press and partners. Apart from discovering that he’s brought many of them with him from HP, where he ran the imaging business for two decades, we learned that Joshi has no interest in the 3DP desktop/personal market, which he sees as a distraction.

Meeting and greeting
I’m glad to say the show was a great success in terms of helping to promote what we do at CONTEXT. At the EOS event at IMTS I joined a one-hour Q&A panel on AM, fielding a healthy number of questions and following up with a bunch of interested attendees informally afterwards. I also had meetings with some of the hottest companies around in the space, including HP, Carbon3D, Concept Laser – number two in metals – EnvisionTEC and others.

There was more of the same at TCT in Birmingham, UK. The show focuses on the personal/desktop as well as the industrial/professional market, so there was time to take in showcases from the likes of Ultimaker, Zortrax, MakerBot and Polaroid. Some key takeaways include the delay of the Mattel printer, the forthcoming shipment of Mcor’s repositioned desktop paper/colour printer and new or increased presence from HP, Ricoh and others. On the industrial side, there seems to be a growing number of so-called “hybrid” machines sold by the likes of Sodick which offer AM and traditional manufacturing in one machine.

3dchris1

According to CONTEXT research I presented at the show, the personal/desktop market grew in 1H16 but contracted on the industrial side as management changes and new entrants continue to make an impact. Metal 3D Printing remains a bright spot in that market side along with power-based plastic printers.

CONTEXT will be hosting a 3D Printing Breakfast event at CES in Las Vegas on Thursday, 5th January 2017. To register or for more information, please contact: Theo Gibbons.

by CC

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 3D Printing

Channel to Print Vendors: Clearer labeling is needed!

According to the latest CONTEXT ChannelWatch, European channel players believe print manufacturers could do “a lot more” to stop counterfeit toner cartridges flooding the market.

The call to action for vendors to label their products better comes from over 2,000 business owners and senior managers at key channel businesses across Western Europe. The in-depth report is compiled from interviews with these organisations including resellers, vendors, retailers and distributors.

When asked who they thought could do the most to stop the growing problem of illegal printer consumables in the region, a clear majority (55%) claimed print vendors could do “a lot more”, although a significant minority claimed the channel (37%) and government (35%) could do the same.

When it came to government, however, a large number of respondents (30%) claimed they “don’t know” what role it should take.

The problem as the channel sees it lies in the packaging of illegal toner cartridges.

Over half (58%) of resellers told us it would be easy for them to spot counterfeits, but just 15% of them said they thought it would be simple for their customers.

Clearly labelled packaging (73%) for re-manufactured and legal compatibles was called out as the best solution to the counterfeit problem amongst other suggestions.

Some major print vendors are taking the initiative, raising public awareness, training channel partners, monitoring sales via distribution channels, and most importantly – seizing counterfeit goods and taking their manufacturers and resellers to court.

HP Inc. seized more than 12 million items and enforced over 1800 actions across EMEA between 2011 and 2015, while Kyocera seized €10m worth of counterfeit goods in FY 2015. But between just April and May this year Kyocera reported the capture of goods worth over €5m – an indication of the escalating scale of the problem.

Some vendors have also responded with secure holographic seals, serial numbers and other innovative features to help distinguish genuine from counterfeit products.

The new ChannelWatch report from CONTEXT covers this and other key channel trends in detail, shining an important light on what resellers from the UK, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and Italy really think. To request a copy of the report or to speak to someone, please contact tgibbons@contextworld.com.

by TG

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Imaging

Why Makers are not Consumers in 3D Printing

The mainstream curiosity for 3D printing seemed to hit its apex between 2012 and 2014: a period in which the market witnessed sizable growth with sales of personal/desktop 3D printers doubling each consecutive year. Sales subsided a little in 2015 when there was year-on-year market growth of just 33% rather than the 124% seen from 2013 to 2014. Demand remains, however, as shown by lower prices, new brands entering the market and the emergence of even lower price points. The interest in this area is especially evident from recent Kickstarter campaigns from Tiko and OLO, both of which set records and saw pre-orders in excess of 16,000 units each!

But who is buying these printers? General, at-home consumers? Surely not. To the uninitiated, 3D printing can seem novel and fun and, no doubt, some uninformed consumers have purchased devices only to be disillusioned by how hard they are to actually use. This is what separates Consumers from Makers. Makers like to tinker and “make” things (not just consume them). For example, one of the details of desktop 3D printing that is rarely talked about is the effect that the materials used have on how easy the printer is to use.

I am a maker who purchased a 3D printer over a year ago and I use my printer on a daily basis, with my usage growing all the time. Here is what I’ve learned. I purchased a delta-style FDM printer (the most popular type of desktop machine) and have come to recognize that even when considering only the various plastics suitable for material extrusion printers there is quite a variety and each operates in its own way.

Materials include nylon (very durable, but vulnerable to water), acrylics (for smaller items with much detail), PET and its derivatives (to make plastic bottles and food containers), ABS (made from petroleum products, strong and durable) and many others, such as glow in the dark plastic or even clay for making crockery. Some personal 3D printers can also create objects in “wood” which is, of course, actually a mixture of plastics and wood filament that can be melted without burning.

elephant

The most popular material for personal 3D printers is biodegradable thermoplastic PLA, produced from renewable resources such as corn. It is the best material for beginners as it sticks well to the surface of the printer’s bed (build plate), solidifies quickly, and provides fairly predictable results. I would recommend those who are taking their first steps in 3D printing use the same material until they start to get a feel for their printer. Once someone has chosen to become a 3D printing maker, learning the qualities of different materials is a priority because it is essential that the temperature, printing speed, extrusion rate, retraction distance and so on are adjusted to the correct levels for each material. Many of these adjustments can (or cannot) be done by way of “slicer” software – another nuance of desktop 3D printing that keeps it from becoming more mainstream.

FDM printers not only have different plastics that require different trial-and-error settings, but different brands’ versions of the same materials are often different (because manufacturers may use different additives, for example). The final print result may vary, even when using material from the same manufacturer, when a different colour is used.

As a result, when trying out a new material, there is always a risk of layers sagging or the printer nozzle becoming clogged. The same can happen if the wrong temperature is selected or as a result of inaccurate bed levelling. There is no WYSIWYG in desktop 3D printing, that’s for sure.

While these nuances might be quite frustrating for a general consumer, such tinkering is what makers live for. This is what makes 3D printing a hobby, which I continue to enjoy. The great variety of materials available creates a vast landscape where those who love new technologies and love to experiment can find many exciting turns and challenges and develop new skills. Here designers and engineers can implement their ideas and fulfill their ambitions – the possibilities are limitless!

by NF

Leave a comment

Filed under 3D Printing, Uncategorized