Re: HP getting ito the rapid prototype printer business

From: Bathsheba Grossman (
Date: Wed Sep 17 2003 - 07:35:47 EEST

On Tue, 16 Sep 2003 wrote:
> But this could have been a ceramic knic knac, jewelry model, a toy, an iron
> temperature dial, some other personal item or discontinued replacement part.
> RP machines will follow the same market progression that personal computers
> and computer printers have followed with apparently greater speed of new
> product development. From 1955 to 1980, computing systems moved from mainframe to
> mini to micro, a period of 25 years to go from millions of dollars to
> thousands. It took a mere additional 10 years to get to under 1,000 dollars. If the
> analogy continues to hold up, we can expect a 1,000 dollar machine in 2005,
> about half the time it took to get to the same point for personal computers
> because the prior advancements in computing power translates to the RP market.
> I welcome any comments on the foregoing.

I guess I'm pessimistic about that analogy. Going from a $20k
computer to a $1k computer was mostly a matter of incremental
improvements to existing technology, and making the marketing decision
to put it in a cute plastic box. But for RP the technology doesn't
exist: no machine is near, in ease of operation or usefulness of
output, to the level that would open a consumer market. Cute plastic
boxes abound, but most people aren't fooled.

I tend to think the biggest hurdle is the material science. Your
stove knob is an excellent example: it's not useful unless it's as
tough as my old injection-molded knob (preferably tougher, since the
old one broke!), a good color match to my other knobs, including fine
detail for the calibrations, and without visible layering. It also
must not require any postprocessing.

No process I'm aware of comes near these requirements. Only Sanders
has fine enough layers, almost. Only SLA has enough material
strength, maybe. Only ZCorp has color, if you like pastels. Fill in
your favorite here. All are wildly deficient in those areas where
they don't excel, and all require cumbersome postprocessing.

So my bet is that big breakthroughs are needed before that consumer
machine is foreseeable. Of course it's possible that they've already
been made, under a bushel somewhere...I feel like it would be an awful
lot of progress to be hiding.

OTOH, I wouldn't be surprised if a sub-$5000 concept modeler, based on
a combination of existing technologies, did appear in the next several
years. Probably looking more like SLA than anything else. There's
nothing about what these machines do that is inherently expensive,
they just haven't been exposed to economies of scale. HP, or a
handful of other companies, could do it.

But I don't expect a household appliance that would appeal to Joe
Sixpack, even though he has a digital camera these days. My crystal
ball is showing a tool for well-heeled 3D shops, with a price point
and market similar to the Microscribe arm.

It would still be a giant step forward -- if it can build the model at
the top of this page,, I'm
standing in line to write that check. Knock wood....


Bathsheba Grossman                 phone (831)429-8224, fax (831)460-1242
Sculpting geometry                                
Solidscape prototyping                           
Protein crystals                             

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