The industry analysts seem very excited about the newly announced merger between two companies, Stratasys and Objet, that specialize in 3-D printing as Robert Cyran states in his April 16, 2012 posting on the Fast Company website,
Making physical items from digital files is a hot technology – maybe too hot if the market reaction to the acquisition of privately held Objet by Stratasys is any guide. Despite few synergies and an odd poison pill, the buyer’s shares rose nearly 25 percent, mainly on potential revenue synergies. But the future isn’t quite here yet.
Rich Brown in his April 16, 2012 posting on C/Net seems mildly more enthused,
You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t previously heard of Stratasys Inc or Objet Ltd. Stratasys, formerly a NASDAQ-traded company from Eden Prairie, MN, has a multi-pronged business selling industrial-quality 3D printers and on-demand object printing services. Objet, of Rehovot, Israel, is a 3D printer manufacturer notable for its “polyjet matrix” technology, that can print an object using multiple different materials.
Here’s why you might care that [they] announced their intention to merge: the new company, Stratasys, Ltd. could become a third major competitor in the consumer 3D printing market.
Where might newly-formed Stratasys, Ltd fit in? Neither originating firm is as large as 3D Systems, but both Stratasys Inc. and Objet Ltd. saw revenue increases over 30-percent for 2011, suggesting both companies are healthy. …”
3D Systems hasn’t really established its own name among consumer 3D printers, so it’s not clear that MakerBot really has any large competition yet. If Stratasys Ltd. does enter the consumer market, and if 3D Systems does make a credible entry, consumers will get to chose from at least three major technology originators. If that happens, here’s hoping that means more competition-induced innovation, and less court-bound patent squabbling.
I will add my wishes to Brown’s hope that this move stimulates innovation and not a series of law suits.
Oddly, I had already planned to write about 3-D printing last Friday, April 13, 2012, when I found a news item by Joel L. Shurkin on physorg.com which includes a good description of the 3-D process (Note: I have removed links),
Much of modern manufacturing is by reduction. Manufacturers take blocks of plastic, wood, or metal, and grind and machine away until they get the item they want. All the plastic, wood, or metal that doesn’t make it into the item is thrown away, maybe as much as 90 percent wasted.
3-D printing puts down layers of metal powders or plastics as directed by software, just as ink is laid down on paper directed by printer drivers. After each layer is completed, the tray holding the item is lowered a fraction of a millimeter and the next layer is added. Printing continues until the piece is complete.
Molten metal is allowed to cool and harden; plastics or metal powders are hardened by heat or ultraviolet light. The ingredients aren’t limited to those substances; almost anything that flows can be accommodated, even chocolate.
There is little waste, and it is possible to change the object by simply working with the software that drives the printer the way text is changed in a word processor.
In addition to the advantages there are also some disadvantages to the technology,
“Printing a few thousand iPhones on demand (and with instant updates or different versions for each phone) at a local facility that can manufacture many other products may be far more cost-effective than manufacturing ten million identical iPhones in China and shipping them to 180 countries around the world,” the Atlantic Council wrote in a report.
Clearly, not everyone would share the advantages. Manufacturing centers like China could lose millions of jobs in that sector, and their economies could be destabilized. The industries that transport the supply line and distribute the finished product would also be hit, the council wrote. Warehouses full of parts and products could be replaced by machines that print on demand.
Closer to home, I mentioned Stratasys and 3-D printing in a Sept. 28, 2011 posting about Manitoba’s Urbee car. My most recent mention of 3-D printing was in an April 10, 2012 posting about print-on-demand robots.