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Industry Roundtable Day 11: How Can Shops Benefit from 3D Printing?

14 days of critical information to prepare your shop for the year ahead.

Big Picture

Which technologies are on the upswing – and which are on the downswing? What markets and applications look to be hot next year? How much of a role will sustainability play in your company? Which profit centers should you invest in?

Get answers to these questions and many more, from six of the wide-format marketplace’s most informed analysts and consultants. Over the next couple of weeks, The Big Picture will post critical questions with invaluable answers from our panel – all designed to help you ensure that your company charts its best course for a prosperous year ahead.

Each day leading up to the SGIA Expo in Orlando, we’ll feature a round of questions and answers from our panel participants. For this year’s edition of our annual Industry Roundtable, our participants include:

• Lori Anderson, president and CEO, International Sign Association (ISA, www.signs.org);

• Marco Boer, vice president, I.T. Strategies (www.it-strategies.com);

• Tim Greene, director, wide format consulting service, InfoTrends (www.infotrends.com);

• Dan Marx, vice president, markets & technologies, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA, www.sgia.org);

• Peter Mayhew, director, LightWords Ltd. (www.lightwords.co.uk); and

• John Zarwan, managing partner, J Zarwan Partners (www.johnzarwan.com).

Q: Is 3D printing just an illusion – or is there a market there? And can wide-format print operations take advantage of it?

Tim Greene: 3D printing is not an illusion. I think of it as just another opportunity for the companies that embrace the technology to see what service they can offer their customers. It’s no different than offering digital printing of T-shirts, hats, or any other advertising specialty. Some wide-format shops will take advantage of the technology to offer rapid-prototyping services to small architectural or manufacturing businesses that can’t buy their own printer, for instance.

Marco Boer: 3D printing is one of the most compelling applications for print to have been “discovered” after nearly 20 years of development. You must realize, however, that much of it is not actually printed with inkjet technology; instead, stereolithography and other technologies dominate that market. To the print-service-provider, it won’t matter much how the 3D product is created. What does matter, of course, is whether their customers can actually provide digital files that can feed the printer. Designing an attractive graphics document is difficult enough for most; but now try designing in 3D. Unless you’ve been using CAD/CAM design programs for a long-time, 3D printing output will be a big disappointment. This is why many of the 3D printer providers actually offer service bureaus that create 3D designs for you. They’ll either sell you the design or will even print the product for you on their very best, $250,000 printers. This will make it difficult for print providers to compete when they are buying that very same supplier’s $60,000 3D printer.

John Zarwan: It’s not an illusion, it’s a real market. It will be interesting to see if wide-format print operations can move into it. Right now it’s mostly in companies serving A/E/C, which many wide-format providers do currently service.

Dan Marx: 3D printing today is like the Wild West, and people are using the technology to produce everything from guns to bone/tissue replacement – which seems like some sort of a sad, closed-loop system, by the way. Just the other day, I saw a video of a 3D system being used for fine-art reproduction – it not only rendered the image beautifully, but it also accurately recreated the brush strokes of the original painting. Just outside of the 3D printing opportunity are machines like Scodix and MGI’s JetVarnish 3D that are bringing impressive textures to our traditional 2D printed surface. Printing textures? Yes, a strong opportunity. But printing objects? I think that’s less of a fit for our community – for now.

Lori Anderson: 3D printing continues to improve and some of the options being discussed are truly mind-blowing: military ships at sea can conceivably print parts that are needed on-board; doctors in remote villages can print out artificial joints and bones, and so on. I don’t envision a day when the local hospital is working with the local printer on, say, knees that it needs for next week’s surgery. However, as these refinements are made, I do believe there will be opportunities – and perhaps even expectations – that this technology moves into retail, point-of-purchase, and marketing. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

Peter Mayhew: Like with dynamic signage, 3D printing is another market that could leverage a PSP’s existing skills, but not necessarily existing clients or markets. The only way to enter is to understand your market and then weigh the cost of entry and likely ROI.

Miss Day 10 of our Industry Roundtable? Click here for our experts' take on applications that are hot -- and which have cooled off. 




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