In the following video, 3D-printing analyst Steve Heller interviews Conor MacCormack, CEO of Mcor Technologies, an Ireland-based 3D printing company that uses ordinary copy paper for its printers' primary material. Mcor's paper-based 3D printing technology carries a significantly lower operating cost, between five and 20 times cheaper than comparable plastic-based 3D printers. Additionally, Mcor's Iris full-color 3D printer boasts superior color-matching capability to that of plastic-based 3D printers, thanks to its reliance on inkjet technology.
During the segment, the pair discuss:
- The value proposition of 3D printing with ordinary copy paper
- Overall industry adoption rates
- Top 3D printing predictions for 2015 and beyond
- The 3D-printed selfie and how it could gain popularity
- Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE:HPQ) entrance into the space
- Mcor's five-year vision.
A full transcript follows the video.
Steve Heller: Steve Heller, here. I'm joined today with Conor MacCormack, CEO of Mcor Technologies.
Mcor is a very interesting up-and-coming company in the additive manufacturing, 3D printing space. Their feedstock, or the primary material they use, is ordinary copy paper, and they're able to print -- as you can see behind me -- full-color designs using an inkjet-based technology. The operating costs are significantly lower. We'll get into that a little bit later.
Conor, I just want to talk to you a little bit about what you think about this year's turnout, at EuroMold 2014? What's the most surprising thing you've seen this year, and your take on the whole conference?
Conor MacCormack: How are you doing, Steve? It's good to see you again.
Yes, the show has been brilliant this year. Obviously, EuroMold is very much an industrial show. The different shows have different flavors. Some are consumer-oriented, but this one is very much talking to industry.
Some people initially think, "How is your technology suitable to that kind of industrial sector?" but the technology is so small -- the level of penetration -- that there's always applications that people haven't thought of. A lot of times with people coming over, it can be used for castings, investment castings; real-use, hard applications.
It's very important for us to be here. It's for getting the brand, it's for getting people to know about what we're doing, and then getting an opportunity for people to see the latest developments in the software, the new coatings that we have, the new algorithms that we've released to make that color really, really crisp and to get really super-high color quality in our material.
We've talked about this before, but our whole DNA of the company, our goal is to make a photo-realistic 3D-printed object. Because we use paper as the raw material, we believe that we're very well placed to make that happen. That's why we're very excited to be here at the show.
Heller: Talk me through the value proposition of using ordinary copy paper as your raw material. What makes your product so much more valuable than the competitive landscape, which usually uses thermoplastic and other more expensive materials?
MacCormack: I think... [ banging noise in background ] Sorry about that. That's actually a [paper] hammer that somebody has printed on our machine, hammering on the table. I don't know if that will make the video!
Heller: It might!
MacCormack: Effectively, the industry is really evolving. Before, people were trying to sell a machine to do everything. They were saying, "This machine can do from jewelry all the way to whatever different applications." But what is happening is that the market is maturing, and people are realizing that you really do sometimes need more than one machine.
The value proposition for us is that if you want to make a very low-cost part that's very high-quality, and if you want to have color on that, that is the real value proposition we're talking about.
Because we use paper and ink, our color is measurably higher color capability than anybody else. We have measurably the highest color capability in the 3D printing industry, so that's the first thing.
The second, because it uses paper and a water-based adhesive, the running costs on our machine are extremely low. You can be talking up to 20 times cheaper if it's a non-color part, like a white part or multicolor paper part. If you're using a full-color part, around maybe five times, 5x cheaper. That's the real value proposition.
It's a real business case. If you buy our machine, you can make high quality color parts at a fifth of the price of anything else. It's a simple thing, a simple mathematical formula. You can make money using our machine, and that's the value proposition.
Heller: Very good.
In your estimations, what percentage of product developers haven't necessarily integrated 3D printing into their operations, into their workflow? What kind of opportunity are [we] looking at? Where are we with this market penetration?
Then, obviously, the earlier stage prototypes, the conceptual models; that's really your [Mcor's] bread and butter. I wanted to talk more about what you think that market could be worth one day.
MacCormack: I think if you broke the industry into two groups, enterprise and consumer, there's different levels of penetration in both. I think on the enterprise level there's people talking about maybe 8%. I think it's lower than that.
I don't know how many examples where you get companies in to see what you're doing [with 3D printing] and they say, "Well, I could use that." It's like, "How have you not heard about 3D printing?"
All these shows, you're kind of in a bubble. You believe that everybody here knows about it, but they've paid to come here. It's the companies out there that might have heard about 3D printing, but they don't think it's applicable to them.
I would say in the industrial sector it's a lot lower than 8%. Even at that, say you talk 8% -- you're talking about at least 12 times, 12.5 times growth on the enterprise level. That's very significant levels of growth that you could look at.
But on the consumer side, it's a fraction of a percent. The number of people that will be using this technology in the future, whether that's going to be in the home or just getting access to a 3D-printed part, because I think there is a difference.
Whether people are going to have a 3D printer in their home for printing out parts in the house, I don't necessarily see that with the current state of the technologies. But everybody will have access to a 3D-printed object, and that's going to be different. That's how people are going to get access to it. I think then you're talking about huge levels of growth.
We're really just seeing the start of it. I think we talked about this before. People, I believe, make the mistake in thinking that all the platforms that are out there, that's it, that you might as well close the patent office -- there's going to be no more innovation in 3D printing.
But we're seeing new players coming into the market, and the stuff that we're doing, as well. I'm sure all the companies are doing the same thing: thinking outside the box, trying to make machines orders of magnitude faster, orders of magnitude better materials.
Once these things happen, and they will happen, then it just throws out the rulebook again, and it opens the market up to a huge level of expansion.
I think the hype around the 3D printing industry... the potential is not hype. We will look back at this time and we will say, "Do you remember that time? This was really the start of a big change." I don't want to say "industrial revolution" because everybody's using that word, but it is going to be a big change, and people will look back at this time.
The [3D printing] technologies are going to be very different [in the future], but the concept will be the same, of taking a digital file and making it physical, but it will just be done in a different way. That's the thing people forget, that there will be new innovations all the time.
It's whoever can come up with the right innovation for the right market, being very strategic and picking a niche -- which is a big part of our strength, that we know very well where we're strong. And that's where we see very big, strong growth in our industry and the particular niche market that we're good for.
Heller: Very good.
In terms of some of your top predictions for 3D printing in, say, the year ahead, 2015 coming around, what do you expect to see out of this industry? Then also maybe you can talk more about where you expect Mcor to fit into this whole equation.
MacCormack: That's a good question. 2015... if you want to go a little bit farther than that, if you want to go another five years, there is no reason why parts cannot be made in minutes.
If you think about the processes that are involved, if you look at some of the other technical challenges that people have solved over the years, and they're a lot more complex than 3D printing, if there's enough attention and big enough companies and big enough ideas -- it just needs an idea, it doesn't have to be a big corporation to do it -- I believe that we can get parts that are made in minutes, material properties that you couldn't distinguish from something you buy off the shelf.
When that happens, it really is going to make a difference in everybody's lives. I think on that level, in maybe four or five years' time you're going to see big, massive amounts of changes.
I think over the next year some of the big changes that are going to happen [are] the data acquisition -- how easy it is for people to actually generate the [raw] data, which, as you know, has been one of the stumbling blocks for maybe moving to the consumer.
How does the consumer -- they buy a 3D printer, they have it at home, at their house, and they print the first 20 parts that come in the SD drive, and then what do they print after that? How do they generate the file? Do they know CAD [computer-aided design]? Do they have to learn some sort of software?
With the advent of very low-cost scanning, photogrammetry apps for your phone, how easy that has become over the last even six months, I think over the next year you're going to see [it become] a lot easier for people on the street to be able to generate their own files and their own data. I think that's going to have a very big boost in certain aspects of the market moving forward into the consumer level.
Heller: Yes, we've seen a lot of these 3D-printed-selfie booths, if you will, around the EuroMold show. I know a lot of the technology uses a Z Corp technology, right, 3D Systems -based multi-material, full-color technology?
Heller: I was wondering if you could talk about the evolution of that. Is this the real deal? Right now, a 3D-printed selfie could be anywhere from $50 to $300, as you were saying earlier. Obviously, that price point needs to come down. You think that maybe Mcor could be a good fit for that.
MacCormack: Yes, I think people have underestimated -- I don't know how many people have said it to me here over the last two days. People have underestimated how big that [3D printed selfie] market is growing.
People thought it was a bit of a gimmicky idea. Who's going to get a scan of themselves or whatever, and what will be the function of it? But they're missing the point that if you can connect with somebody on an emotive level...
It's something very strange about looking at yourself or someone that you know in a 3D printed sense. It's a bit of fun, and that's fine. It doesn't all have to be part of a jet engine or something that goes into an aircraft. It's fine to have something that's a bit of fun.
When you look at these models here, something that's pure white or something that's full color, people are going to gravitate toward the full color, so the higher color quality is going to really only expand that market. I think that whole size of the industry is going to get really, really big.
If you look at, say, for example, photographs, the 2D photograph industry, I believe that's a $200-$300 billion industry, and that industry is in a bit of a decline as maybe people are printing their images in different ways. That's a real, real good opportunity for people in the 3D printing sense to actually tap into that.
I keep on calling these the "ultimate selfie." When you turn on your Instagram instantly, the first thing it does is it's pointing back at you -- it's not pointing out. We're in that nation. We're in that kind of era where people are taking scans of themselves and photographs of themselves, so I think people are underestimating the desire and the demand to print that.
When you want to get something that you'd have in your home or give to somebody as a gift, the two big things are price point and then the color quality.
If price point and color quality are the two big drivers in there, then we're [Mcor is] very, very well, perfectly suited for that because running cost, as I said earlier we can be in full color maybe five times cheaper. Something that's into that price range, something that's $25, we're $5. That's the kind of things that we're talking about. It's big, big changes.
That means that people can set up businesses, people can become [3D printing service] bureaus. They can buy [3D printer] machines and they can offer the service. You will see this all over.
The [3D] scanners are becoming really, really small. You don't need the big booths or a big investment, to get a big photo booth. You can get a scanner to fit over your iPad, you can use your mobile phone and scan people.
That's getting better and better, literally on a month-per-month basis, and it's all software-driven. It's new algorithms that make the color matching better, make the geometry better, and then you're going to be at the sweet spot where people will say, "Yes, that's good enough quality. That's the right price point for a gift. I'm not going to pay $300 for it, but I'll pay maybe $30 for it."
There is a number in there that actually will really accelerate it, and then it's a case of can we make them fast enough, and how many machines are needed to tap into that massive market?
Obviously you're [Mcor is] one of the leading providers of true full-color 3D printing solutions. Hewlett-Packard, also a pretty good leader in --
MacCormack: I think I've heard of them!
Heller: You've heard of them, right? Yes!
They're a pretty good leader in color, obviously been doing it for decades at this point, their expertise at manipulating droplets, inkjet technology, [HP's 3D printing technology] Multi Jet Fusion is around the corner.
We don't know where the color scheme is going to be falling there with them initially, but we do know that there's probably going to be more pressure and more demand from customers and from industry players pushing toward fuller color.
I was wondering if you could give your comments on the landscape at this point around Multi Jet Fusion, HP's technology, and what you really think that this means for the industry.
MacCormack: I do think it's [the landscape is] definitely going to change if people get access to 3D printed objects.
If people want to use a [3D printing] bureau service to get a particular thing in the future -- if it's 2016 or whenever the machine is available, or whatever it's going to be a few years down the line, I think it is going to change how people get access to some [3D printed] content.
But the fundamental components of how their machine works, it's a powder-based technology. It uses a plastic that they bind together, so they've come up with some sort of a solution that enables the plastic resin or the powder to bind together very, very strongly. We've seen some of the videos [of strength being demonstrated].
There's no reason to suspect that they wouldn't be able to print in full color, because the printing-head ink -- or some sort of a colored component, the binder that sticks the pieces together -- but their technology, while I haven't seen it up close, seems similar to the old ZPrint technology that put down a layer of powder, so they do a recoat layer just like the ZPrinter -- [which is] now [owned by] 3D Systems -- used to do. Then they apply the binder, and HP applies a binder that actually adheres the plastic together.
Because of that, because they're putting down the color on one side, that has been one of the challenges for the 3D Systems color; if you want to get color on the side of a layer, you have to oversaturate on the top, and when your ink CM&Y [cyan, magenta, and yellow] colors mix, they're not pure colors. You get a kind of a green or a brown, so you don't get very good color matching.
What you have to do is keep on adjusting the digital file. You print one print, you look at it, you say, "That's not the right color. It looks a bit green or yellow," and you oversaturate your digital file so that your actual, physical output looks something closer.
We believe that they will have the same color challenges that the other powder technology has. Because we print ink onto paper, which is what it was designed to do, and we print in duplex [both sides of the paper] so we don't need to put the ink all the way through the layer -- we print ink on both sides -- we can get very high color resolution, both sides of the layer.
We feel that our color is going to be superior, and our running costs are going to be still a fraction of the cost [of HP's]. HP, we all know -- people keep on talking about the HP model -- everybody knows the 2D printer model. There's no reason to suspect it's going to be any different when it goes to a 3D model.
The cost per print, we believe because it's paper we're going to win that hands down. We think it's good for the market actually, that HP's come in, because it's validating color. It's a big player coming in and they're talking about getting into 3D printing in the first place, and then the fact that they're able to do color.
For us, it's a good thing. I don't know, if we were a plastic [3D] printer I might not be as happy about it, but I think for Mcor it just validates the color and it actually strengthens our position as being very differentiated.
Heller: Very good.
In terms of your five-year plan and vision for the company, I know you're a private company and there's obviously benefits to that. I guess I'm really looking for five years down the road, what does the future of Mcor look like, and how does it fit into this new world of 3D printing that seems to be accelerating growth rates?
MacCormack: For me personally, my whole goal is to grow this company, and whatever form that takes. We have this technology; we have other technologies that we're rolling out. We have IP [intellectual property] that we're filing all the time.
We would see ourselves as an R&D company, at its heart. What gets us really excited is to make the machines that people go, "Wow, I never would have thought of doing that," or "That's an amazing thing." That's what really drives us, is to make those machines. We believe that we can make those machines, invent those machines that people are going to want to buy.
At the levels that we're talking about, it's going to mean that the company's going to get bigger and bigger. The growth rates that we've had over the last couple of years are very, very high. We're going from 500% growth last year, 200% this year, and we're looking at another 100% growth in the next 12 months, so we're seeing very, very strong growth levels.
My goal is to make this company to be as big as possible, to have other platforms coming behind. I would love, in three or four years' time, to be here at EuroMold and to announce the next machine that actually is going to just completely transform -- do the step change that I was talking about, where you do this big thing that people always want.
That's what really drives us, so whatever form that takes. If we have to be a public company that's fine, as long as the company grows, and grows in the right direction, that's what we're looking at doing.
Heller: Very good. Thank you so much for your time today, Conor.
MacCormack: It's a pleasure, as usual.
Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 3D Systems. 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.