By 2025, it is estimated that the 3D printing materials market will be worth over $600 million, and perhaps as high as $1 billion. Following a recent ruling by Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, $1 billion may be on the low end, with the majority of profits going primarily to large corporations like 3D Systems and Stratasys.
An antitrust case which has gone relatively unnoticed since its outcome was announced on April 18th, pitted DSM Desotech against 3D Systems. DSM Desotech, the chemical giant who produces photosensitive polymers, which are ideal for stereolithography technology used within 3D printers, brought their case to the court, arguing that the system being used by 3D Systems was anti-competitive. DSM claimed, that because of a practice used by 3D Systems, which locked out outside resin brands, their actions should be deemed illegal.
3D Systems uses a system which will shut a printer down if the resin bottle cap does not have the appropriate transmitter on it. The transmitters send a signal to an RFID chip within the printer, only permitting resins produced by 3D Systems themselves to be used. This is no different than practices used within the 2D Printer industry. Companies like Canon, Hewlett Packard, and Epson all require that only their proprietary inkjet cartridges be used in their machines.
What DSM argued, was that the 3D printing market was not as large as that of the 2D market, with 3D Systems be the easy market share leader worldwide, of stereolithography based 3D printers. They then argued that, as a consequence, consumers had no choice but to use 3D Systems’ photosensitive resin, if they wished to utilize printers based on SLA technolgy.
Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ultimately ruled in favor of 3D Systems, on the grounds that stereolithography based printing did not constitute a market, or ever a sub-market. She ruled that the market was actually defined by all 3D printers, including FDM, and SLS technologies, among others. Basically she has declared that all 3D printers are the same. One company locking in customers of a specific technology like SLA, is not anti-competitive because consumers have the option of using other printers, based on other technologies.
The Judge also found that 3D Systems required RFID tagging, in part to “provide its customers with useful functionality” and also determined that there was “no evidence that 3DS was limiting resin variety or charging supracompetitive prices for SLA resin.”
Ultimately this ruling may have profound effects on the 3D printing materials industry, allowing companies to lock in consumers, charging them higher prices, resulting in more money spent annually on resins. It is interesting to note however, that within the last month or two, we have seen the market for consumer based SLA 3D printers expand. With Autodesk entering the market later this year, competition may ultimately lead to better pricing on resins for consumers. This will also give companies like DSM an expanded market, as not all new printers produced outside of 3D Systems will lock in consumers to their own resins. Whether this will eventually spill over into the professional side of the market is yet to be seen.
What do you think? Was Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman right in her ruling? Let’s hear your opinion at the forum thread for ‘DSM Desotech Vs. 3D Systems’.
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