Let’s talk about industrial ‘desktop’ 3D printers, especially as they pertain to metals. Until recently, the metal ‘desktop’ 3D printing market was relatively non-existent, with ‘desktop’ printers being only suitable for polymers. That is until the eponymous Desktop Metal boldly entered the market by high-jacking the term and using it as their company name. It’s especially interesting now, as this unicorn has begun to wildly swing away from ‘desktop’ solutions by investing very heavily in extremely large and expensive production units. So, where does that leave us?
In 2018, there were two major players in this market, Desktop Metal and Markforged. But, first, we must ask if their Studio and Metal X systems, respectively, are even ‘desktop’ solutions? One could argue that they are not. Yes, the printers themselves are designed to fit nicely on your desktop, but the complete solution requires two other large and unwieldy units that would cause more than just few odd looks if placed on your desk at work.
But, do these printers need to be on your desktop? In all honesty, no. Let’s look at the primary applications within the industrial market. We are not talking about someone sitting at their desk and printing out metal parts like you’d print a contract on a 2D printer. We’re talking about high functioning prototypes, and even functional parts, within an industrial manufacturing environment. So, what we’re really asking for is a complete system within a small footprint, whether or not it can sit on your desk.
As entry-level solutions, they should also be lower-cost, require minimal set-up and, ideally, be “plug & play”. I even toyed with the idea of trying to come up with a new name for the category. The best I could come up with was “CLIMP” for Compact, Low-cost, Industrial, Metal Printers. Not exactly catchy. Although it’s more accurate than ‘desktop’, I can see why ‘desktop’ stuck. So, for the time being, I think I’ll be referring to them as Compact Industrial printers.
Firmly now in 2019, it’s clear people want and need Compact Industrial metal printers. There’s a huge gap in the market between printers designed for the hobbyist and industrialized solutions requiring extensive facilities renovations and seven-figure price tags. Are the big players like EOS and Concept Laser coming out with solutions to meet this demand? Interestingly, no. These companies are focusing on producing larger printers, with a focus on throughput for a productized environment. So, it’s up to the new entrants to address this need. There are several newer companies releasing Compact Industrial AM metal printers this year and it’ll be interesting to see which one’s rise to the top to compete head-to-head with the current ‘desktop’ providers.
Blog by Kristin Mulherin, Senior Analyst at SmarTech Analysis. Contact: [email protected]
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