Both Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) and 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) have recently expressed interest in further developing metal 3-D printing technologies on the industrial front. But when it comes to the potential for a desktop 3-D printer for printing metal at home, they have been largely silent. While the big players remain dormant on the topic, one man in Colorado just unveiled a solution: the Mini Metal Maker. Could 3D Systems and Stratasys be interested in the technology?
Stratasys CEO David Reis said in the company's third-quarter press release that the desktop 3-D printer category is "one of the fastest growing segments within our industry." Even more, the 2013 acquisition of MakerBot is already raking in a nice 9% of the company's revenue. And for 3D Systems, that number is slightly higher; consumer printers account for about 10% of its revenue. The segment is undoubtedly an important one -- and one that looks like it's here to stay.
An unconventional answer?
David Hartkop's just-unveiled Mini Metal Maker, a printer that uses metal clay to print 3-D objects that could very well be the industry's first step in bringing metal printing to the desktop. While the printer's major drawback is that it requires the kiln process, the creation may be innovative enough to find a spot in the maker culture.
Recently, I met with Hartkop for an interview to take a look at the 3-D printer for myself. I was impressed. As a first prototype, the printer certainly has potential. Even more, the provisional patent he has filed for on the device is what makes the printer so user-friendly -- potentially giving the printer characteristics to be sought after.
Though Hartkop's solution that still involves a kiln may not be what the 3-D printing community expected as a solution to printing metal at home, there's no denying the unique approach is addressing a number of key issues.
Could Hartkop's patent become a subject of interest to 3D Systems and Stratasys in their efforts to continue to grow their consumer printer lines? It's possible. Especially when you consider the Mini Metal Maker's price point. Hartkop told me he thinks he could bring it to market for just $500, a low-enough price point that could offset the cumbersome need to use a kiln -- at least for many hobbyists, craftspeople, and makers.