When we decided to launch 3DPrint.com just over 13 months ago, we looked at it as a hobby, but the pace at which things have progressed, both for us and for the industry in general, has taken even us by surprise. Additive manufacturing is changing the world as we know it, and although there are still plenty of skeptics out there, I now truly believe that we are in the midst of the third industrial revolution.
“Why would anyone want a 3D printer? Who wants to pay $1000 to $2000 to be able to print out plastic little trinkets?”
Those are common questions I receive on a weekly basis from family and friends who don’t regularly read our site. The fact is, however, that they are asking legitimate questions. Why would someone pay so much money for a machine to print out plastic trinkets? What these doubters fail to realize when asking these questions is that plastic trinkets are not the driving force of this technology, and prices are rapidly declining. What is driving adoption rates of 3D printers within homes and offices are useful applications which put complete control in the consumer’s hands. As each month passes literally dozens on new applicable uses for desktop 3D printers emerge from companies small and large.
Take for instance what one Palo Alto, California-based company, Pebble, is doing with their smartwatch. Pebble exploded onto the scene during the Spring of 2012. They raised a staggering $10,266,845 via Kickstarter for their E-Paper smartwatch. Soon after, buzz began to emerge that Apple would be launching their very own smartwatch as well, which they later unveiled. How does a tiny startup with several million crowdfunded dollars compete with the most valuable company on the planet? Most don’t. Even I, myself, envisioned Pebble folding soon after the announcement of the Apple Watch. I was wrong, like I am quite often, and instead of rolling over to die, the company did the same thing which initially brought them success: think outside the box.
Last month Pebble launched another Kickstarter campaign, this time for the Pebble Time smartwatch. With weeks still remaining, this campaign has already brought in well over $15.5 million. So, who’s buying a Pebble, and why are they buying it when Apple’s smartwatch is ready to be released within weeks? People who desire the ability to personalize their own accessories.
Pebble has decided that in order to succeed in a market with Apple they must differentiate themselves. How are they doing this? Via 3D printing. Late last month we did a story on Pebble, which had announced that they will be offering free downloadable 3D printing files to whomever wishes to print out their own custom watch bands. Yesterday the company released mechanical and electrical designs so that hobbyists and designers can begin customizing their very own 3D printable smartstraps. In doing so, Pebble is attracting individuals to their brand who want to be a part of their watch design, people who take pride in the fact that they are different, and that they made an impact on the watch that they are wearing.
Now envision a time in the not-too-distant future when almost anything you buy will be able to be customized for no more than the cost of some plastic filament. Now do you see where desktop 3D printers may fit into our lives?
With reliable 3D printers already on the market for less than you’d pay for an average smartphone, such a future seems like it may be closer than even I had imagined. As printers continue to expand in their capabilities, prices drop further, and the sheer number of applicable uses for these machines grows exponentially, there is little doubt in my mind that 3D printing will eventually rule our global economy. The question won’t be “Why would anyone want a 3D printer?” it will be “Why wouldn’t anyone want a 3D printer?” Pebble’s adoption of the technology into its ecosystem is only the beginning.
Let’s hear your thoughts on Pebble and its possible implications on the 3D printing space. Discuss in the 3D Printing Economy forum thread on 3DPB.com.