We lack a complete and thorough understanding of the Additive market. Often essential, important or very profitable applications, procedures or knowledge is not shared. This means that the true extent, direction and nature of the market is obscured. This in turn means that the 3D printing market as a whole does not allocate capital well, does not devote the right resources to the right things and replicates a lot of effort without a lot of success. Previously we looked at how NDA´s and strategic replication retard our growth and understanding. Now we´re going to look at the other main contributors to the Iceberg Problem: Universities who are more interested in IP than sharing knowledge, government work, successful things being kept secret and niche things being much more prevalent than industry actors could possibly think.
Universities who are More Interested in IP than Sharing Knowledge
We’ve gotten a lot of frankly embarrassing press releases from Universities at 3Dprint.com. In several cases we ignored lies and over claim only to get criticized for not covering important stories. Well in fact there isn’t a story, its just a lie told over and over again. We’re also seeing several universities play a game of IP land grab in several technologies. Rather than refining a new technology with successive papers we´re seeing people blithely ignoring the fact that they’re all working on the same thing under a different name. IP licensing and commercialization departments at universities often try to guard IP and commercialize it more aggressively nowadays as well. Often a paper is being written as foreplay to a startup rather than for academic reasons. The hunt for citations and impact factor also means that rather than refining something important a bombastic thing is promoted as being wholly new. A lot of universities also make significant amounts of money from paid research work that is either kept secret or makes them dependent on corporates or other actors. This creeping commercialization of universities and knowledge work means that a lot of information gets locked behind closed doors. Also rather than seek academic debate and the expansion of everyone´s knowledge over time innovations and work is packaged into bundles of IP. Of course researchers and universities are free to commercialize their work. But, as a whole this kind of thing retards humanity’s progress at the behest of narrow interests.
Especially in the US a lot of research, especially cutting edge stuff is sponsored by the government. This means that research is often narrowly directed at the objectives of funding bodies. However enlightened they are this will limit the beauty of randomness. At the same time a lot of national lab and military work is secret. Obviously I understand that you don’t want to go out there and in a press release say that you’re making a new alloy expressly for a new ICBM. Nor would you want to disclose exactly why you need this material and how you´re using it. A free society needs secrets to survive. Government abuse, corruption and incompetence should be exposed. But, in the realm of the military and intelligence forces secrets must abound. A great example of this is the May incident in the Second World War. Andrew May, a member of the US House, revealed that the reason that US submarines were doing so well against Japan at the start of the war was that Japanese depth charges were not deep enough when they were set to explode. After disclosing this in the press the Japanese adjusted the charges and were estimated to have killed over 800 US personnel and sunk 10 submarines as a result. In our case however we can still conclude that government work obscures needs, developments, requirements and opportunities.
Successful Things Being Kept Secret
There are people making bundles of money in service bureaus. If they do they’re almost never a ¨open for all business¨ regular service bureau however. Maybe through blundering into it or maybe through exploring a lot of options they´ve found a niche. And if you’d visit them you’d see the same Arcam machines or the same P110´s you’d see elsewhere. You’d see the same gallery of molds, awards, arm braces and prototypes that you´ve seen before but there’s a difference. In actual fact the profit of that place may just come from one very lucrative contract. One super profitable part may actually be keeping those floors shiny and the cars nice. Obviously they’re not going to tell you about this. But, this is much more prevalent than one would think. There are a lot of things out there which are the perfect business case for 3D printing as long as no one else knows about them. It is not always obfuscation however. I opined once at a meeting that 3D printed housings were one of the most prevalent parts in 3D Printing. Prototypes, bridge production, iterations, quick fixes and whole production runs of housings are being made. But, no one talks about it. In a meeting I was challenged and people severely doubted that this would be a good business case because after all its just a box. Yes, but a specific box at a specific time. Housings is huge but we don’t discuss it because its boring.
Niche Things Being Much More Prevalent Than Industry Actors Could Possibly Think
Housings therefore is an example of both this and the preceding paragraph. But, there are many more clear examples of niche products that are not in actuality very niche. Hushed slurred tones at AMUG sometimes lead to shrugs. ¨Oh we do a tonne of watch parts too.¨ ¨Nuclear, oh yeah super big for us as well.¨ Something which may be niche or exotic to one actor may in fact be replicated across the world. All the nuclear power plants are trying to 3D Print spare parts. There is a tonne of research in 3D printing for nuclear as well. With huge part life, high criticality and real advantages due to specific geometry nuclear is a great application. We’ve discussed that here. But, often a country has few researchers studying nuclear. They’re generally not really a chatty bunch and don’t do much in PR. There are few companies active in the nuclear industry and they tend to be large. They’re part volumes seem small until you realize just how expensive these plants are and how long they have to last. You’re probably spending way too much time thinking about cars and way too little time thinking about nuclear. And there is so little work going on in materials and qualification for this application that it doesn’t attract more people to it. Nuclear is a notable example because I can actually mention it. There are many more that I can not.
In summation, the Iceberg Problem means that we do not really know what some of the key profitable, successful and critical applications are. Through secrecy we also don’t know what is being invented, commercialized and what has been done already. We all herd like follow each other over a few well trodden paths. We parrot each other as well, whilst not having an adequate understanding of what is going on. This means that people are not investing in critical areas, not making the right machines, not making the right materials and not spending their time chasing the right opportunities. In Additive, the best applications are always a secret, always hidden, never shared. If we want to all advance we should share these procedures, ideas and skills. Or perhaps we don’t.
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