The introduction of 3-D printers to the marketplace has been a hit for inventors creating models of their products, DIY parents who want to spend a couple hours printing off a new toy for their kids, designers who want to see real-life models of their work, and really anybody who wants to print nearly anything imaginable in a multidimensional form.
Up until now, companies manufacturing the printers have seen marginal success selling the machines for in-home use. So will 3-D printing ever pass the in-home novelty stage and become a viable way to mass-produce promotional products? Three industry experts and one robotics expert weigh in.
Yuhling Lu, Ariel Premium Supply: “It won’t happen in the near future. The speed is too slow and cost is still too high for mass production of promotional products.”
Alex Morin, Debco Solutions: “I think 3-D printers will become as ubiquitous and prevalent as a cellphone and laptop computer. Households will all have 3-D printers one day. The same way we meter electricity and water, I think we’ll be metering materials that are piped right into our house. We’ll pay for what we consume. And there’s still a use for me as a supplier. If I’m the one sourcing the most creative ideas and I’ve got the patents on the designs, you’re now buying my designs online and pulling them into your house.”
Robert Fiveash, president of Brand Fuel: “I’ve talked to some of the larger suppliers and every one of them has a 3-D printer and are experimenting and tinkering with it. But none have actually put something like that into production in any kind of meaningful way to replace importing they typically do from China. At this point, there’s zero chance of 3-D printers mass-producing promotional products. Ten years out, it could be a portion of promotional products sales, maybe 15% to 20%.
Dr. Joanne Pransky, robot psychiatrist: “A logo is going to be intellectual property, and its production might be something on a 3-D printer. A promotional company for the NFL might sell Tom Brady’s name on whatever you want. But the manufacturing of that might come right down to my phone. I could print it in my house, but I have to pay a promotional product company for the design.”