In the previous post in this series, we looked at how Bambu Lab‘s market entry fundamentally altered the 3D printing market. Now, we will look deeper at the effects that the Bambu printers are having on the market.
We’re seeing the first moves in a more Bambu-based 3D printing market. Creality has released the K1, a full-featured 3D printer that is clearly meant to be a Bambu-killer—a Panda if you will. Creality will not be the last, however. Anyone who is anyone will now be fighting to make a Bambu-killer.
But, if we were all ballroom dancers and Stacy comes in and blows us all away with a break dance routine, it won’t just be more time on the dance floor that gets us to where we can ape her. If you’re a good manufacturing company, you may have no experience with software to date. You definitely don’t have any experience in tightly integrating hardware, software, and firmware development. You may not test and perform quality assurance (QA) to the point that you can make a device as complex as a Bambu-style 3D printer either. You could copy the marketing copy and the snazzy feature names, but may not be able to get that performance increase.
At one point, I bought a Sony MP3 player. It was purple, snazzy, and worked well, but the software was horrible. It crashed a lot. It was almost impossible to put new songs on. It took ages to sync. The hardware was great, but at that time, Sony didn’t have integrated hardware and software development to make a great MP3 player with the software experience included. Sony invented the Walkman and led the category. When tapes switched to CDs, it still did well. But, all of a sudden, software became an integral part of the offering and it failed.
Now “there’s an app for that,” meaning that your device will be replaced by software through a wallet that is also our phones. SmarTech Analysis highlighted in its latest market data release that software is the fastest growing segment in additive manufacturing (AM), reaching $1.2 billion 2022. Many companies that have done a great job making 3D printers will fail at making a tightly integrated software, firmware and hardware package them with sufficient testing to make it all work seamlessly. The market will be a bloodbath.
The Cambrian explosion of 3D printing firms has allowed many to proliferate. Many businesses have claimed that the market would consolidate, but this has so far happened only slowly. Firms have been driven out by the scale of Prusa Research and its filament production. Anet and Creality have driven out of business many competitors as well. But, the market fragmented. This is likely not going to be the case going forward. Anet and Creality seem unstoppable at the $250 mark. Prusa has released a new printer, which seems like a spot-on evolution for a winning printer that was already very good.
Then, we throw in the Bambu, which is ironing out its kinks. Throw in several $1,000 Bambu-eating Panda printers and the desktop segment will be a massacre. Rather than build a clone that kind of works, people will fail at making a Panda and implode due to the high cost of developing the 3D printer. The high development costs will also mean that not everyone can compete and some will leave. Others will double down on price and value, pitting them against the formidable Anet, Creality and Prusa Research. That’s something very few could survive. Evolutionary approaches to development won’t work in the high-volume, $1000 market because you can choose from a Prusa Research, Bambu Lab, and the Pandas.
Compete with All
Bambu Labs did a Kickstarter, but they never needed the money. The amount of investment that the team put in must have been formidable. The amount of time and testing must have been incredible, as well. Through a crowd of ex-DJI engineers, the team also had a rather unique skillset in commercializing a delicate, advanced technology at scale. DJI is also notable for entering a competitive and fragmented consumer drone market before wiping the floor with everyone. DJI´s dominance over commercial drones is almost absent in other consumer electronics segments.
That mindset and a rare look at how it is done meant that Bambu Labs didn’t enter the market with a Prusa clone dressed in a tuxedo of plastic. They didn’t end up having something that was slightly better than other existing printers. No, they came up with something that they hoped would annihilate the rest of the market. This led to it being such a departure and such an important printer. But, its influence will be deeper going forward.
Now, the current Bambu Labs 3D printers are good, but far from perfect. I also worry about component reliability and performance over time. The machines also now rely on Prusa software as core to their slicer. And maybe this will remain so, and the firm will never optimize its slicer completely.
But imagine we look into the tea leaves and see the Creality K5 in 2028. By that time, Creality has been steadily improving its software, app, and experience for five years. Along with a few other companies, it has a Panda printer that gives the seventh version of the Bambu Labs printer a run for its money. There are maybe four 3D printers available at $750 that are more accurate than the current crop. They have higher yield, higher repeatability, more uptime and better software. At that moment, it becomes very attractive for anyone wanting a low-cost machine to pay more for a much better experience.
With gradual improvements over five years, we can take today’s Bambu Lab machines and imagine true one click 3D printing. We can imagine just giving a 3D printer to someone, they unbox it and they’re off to the races. The printer hardly ever fails at this point and has high yield with great looking parts in many materials. With better materials management and better temperature control results have been better still than they are now. Materials profiles have been perfected and a large libraries of perfect settings are accessible. We have a near consumer device at this point. Something anyone we know could use. Furthermore only few companies could make a device that is so sophisticated and works that well in millions of units. Bring on the desktop 3D printing revolution, after all.
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