In the following video, 3D printing specialist Steve Heller interviews Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates, a leading 3D printing insights company and publisher of Wohlers Report 2014, during last month's EuroMold 2014, the world's largest 3D printing conference.
Topics covered include:
- Hewlett-Packard's entrance into the 3D printing space
- What Tim expected from EuroMold 2014
- Top 3D printing predictions for 2015
- Whether increased 3D printing competition is affecting average selling prices.
A full transcript follows the video.
Steve Heller: Steve Heller here, folks. I'm joined today with Tim Caffrey of Wohlers Associates. He is a senior consultant at Wohlers Associates, a leading 3D printing insights company.
Tim, I just wanted to jump right in here. Let's talk about Hewlett-Packard. Wohlers recently made some pretty bold statements about Hewlett-Packard's Multi Jet Fusion [3D printer]. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that.
Tim Caffrey: Hewlett-Packard's had a team of research scientists that have been working for several years on this technology, which they call Multi Jet Fusion. We've seen some parts, and we've seen a machine, and really some pretty impressive output in terms of the quality of the parts, the down-facing surfaces, the speed of the machine.
Of course, with Hewlett-Packard's global reach -- their large-format 2D printing division, which is headquartered in Barcelona -- we think that they're really in a good position to essentially disrupt the 3D printing industry.
Heller: What makes Multi Jet Fusion so groundbreaking, compared to the additive manufacturing landscape? There are a number of different leading technologies: selective laser sintering, material-based extrusion. What makes Multi Jet Fusion so much more unique?
Caffrey: One thing, Steve, is the speed of the system. There were some test parts that were built, and the speed improvements are up to 10 times faster than some of the existing technologies in additive.
Also, the price point -- which we don't know where Hewlett-Packard's going to price these systems, and, of course, it depends upon the size of the part volume -- but we think that there's some potential for some real disruption with respect to system pricing as well.
Heller: Being that HP's entrance is roughly two years away from release, how do you view that in the competitive landscape? Is this going to spark an innovation boom in terms of research and development? Are other competitors really going to try to step up their game to remain more competitive against a threat like Multi Jet Fusion?
Caffrey: It'll be interesting to see, I agree. We'll see how the other manufacturers in the industry respond. Most of the responses thus far, publicly, have been positive and that there's room in this growing industry for more players and more manufacturers, and that's a good sign.
Hewlett-Packard, you say, is about two years away from commercial systems, and I think that's about accurate, although they are looking for strategic partners and probably to do some beta testing in the nearer term, so we'll probably be seeing incremental results related to the process and how much impact it really will have for the industry.
Heller: In terms of looking out, we're at EuroMold, at the opening day here. What are some of the biggest things you're looking for today?
Caffrey: You're right, we're here at EuroMold, the morning of the first day. EuroMold is the show of the year, where most system manufacturers and material suppliers and other companies that supply to this industry make their big announcements related to technology development, new systems, and whatnot, so it's a pretty exciting time. We'll be here all week, and we'll see what is here to offer and to learn.
We also have a conference. This will be the 16th consecutive year of the Wohlers Conference, which is a one-day conference that we put on. This year's theme is Managing the Supply Chain in 3D Printing. We're looking forward to that on Thursday.
By the end of the week, I think we'll have a good idea. We're looking to see new system announcements. We know that Stratasys and 3D Systems, for example, have both made announcements prior to EuroMold that they will be introducing new materials, new systems, so there's a lot to be seen.
Of course, out here in Hall 11 it's almost entirely dedicated to additive and to the materials and software to support additive, so there's an awful lot to see and an awful lot to learn.
Heller: What do you see as some of your top predictions going into next year, 2015? What are some of the biggest takeaways you think people should be looking out for? What is Wohlers thinking about that?
Caffrey: A couple of things. One is these hybrid [3D printing] systems -- these machines that combine subtractive CNC milling with directed-energy deposition, blown powder processes. [Yamazaki] Mazak has just announced a system, and we're seeing quite a few of these being introduced, and we think there'll be some impact there.
Also, the aerospace industry, specifically GE Aviation, is building a plant in Auburn, Alabama, to produce these [3D printed] fuel nozzles. That's really a breakthrough. Other aerospace companies -- Airbus , for example -- are also looking at and flying many parts, so in the next year I think we'll see some real hard news on aerospace applications for metal AM [3D printed] parts.
Heller: Speaking of aerospace applications, in terms of the regulatory landscape, the FAA isn't necessarily so easy to adopt [embrace] a new technology. I wonder if you could give some insight into any of the regulatory bodies holding back the adoption rates of 3D printing.
Caffrey: It's definitely a hurdle that has to be cleared. The aerospace industry and the medical industry are very risk-averse, for good reason, and it takes a long time to implement new processes, new standards, new materials; which are all going to be necessary with additive.
We'll see incremental and slow change within these industries, and some difficulties; difficulties with inspecting parts that can't be inspected using conventional techniques, new alloys potentially having to be introduced for the additive processes, that don't actually match the alloys that are used in casting or in forging.
It will be several years. Maybe 10 years down the road, we'll look back and say, "Wow, I can't believe that back in 2014 there were so few [3D printing] standards for parts and for materials and for processes," whereas down the road we'll be seeing of course much more of those. But you're absolutely right, it's a challenge for these industries, and nothing happens overnight.
Heller: Exactly. The 3D printing industry, in your opinion, is going to grow somewhere around the neighborhood of about 30%-31% a year, compounded, through the year 2020, from 2013. What that means is that it's probably going to invite a lot of new competition.
I was wondering if you could comment on how it's inviting more competition, if that's actually going to create lower average selling prices? Is that actually going to pressure the industry? Is that going to create another headwind for the industry players?
Caffrey: It's interesting, we actually see more of a divergence in two directions. One is the low-cost [3D] printers -- which, I agree, you'll probably see a little bit of price pressure on the average selling price for those machines -- that are being bought by small businesses and academic institutions, and in some cases by consumers.
On the other end of the spectrum is the metal printers and other production applications for sintered parts, for example Ultem 9085 and the nylons, so we're seeing high-end applications for production parts in metal. That's one end of the spectrum. Then the other end of the spectrum, as I said, the low-cost printers and a little bit of price pressure.
But everything in between is going to expand, too. Even though rapid prototyping has been around for 20-plus years, there are still a lot of opportunities out there for additional prototyping, from companies that either are underutilizing the technology or companies that don't use it at all. We see the entire industry growing across the entire spectrum, from bottom to top.
Heller: Thank you so much for your time, Tim.
Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems, Apple, and Stratasys. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems, Apple, General Electric Company, and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.