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MakerBot CEO: 3D Printing Going Mainstream

Jonathan Jaglom is the new CEO of MakerBot. He comes to the job with strong views of how 3D printing will change the consumer and enterprise markets.

he's clear that he doesn't see the consumer market as one that has run out of potential for MakerBot.

"I do believe that the consumer space will grow and people will have them at home. Will it be a printer for every family? Every five families? That's harder to answer. But if the reliability and price are right, and the applications are simple enough, I see a clear roadmap where the answers are positive," Jaglom said.

What will people do with these home-based 3D printers? Jaglom sees applications that extend beyond the hobbyist or maker segments. "People will print at home with things they download from the Internet. If a piece of my glasses broke, I might purchase a file online and buy the part that broke and print it on my printer at home and go off with my glasses repaired."

Jaglom does see limits on what a 3D printer in the home might reasonably do, but there are solutions, he believes, for overcoming those limitations. "It won't print everything -- you won't have a metal printer at home. I think you might go to Kinko's or someplace similar for the higher-end materials. At home, though, I might print small items like pencil cases -- I'm looking at my desk now and seeing what I'm printing. It's fun," he said.

Printing the Future

As CEO of a 3D printer company Jaglom would almost certainly talk about market growth, but what kind of growth does he foresee for the small 3D printer market?

"I think we're very early, nowhere near saturation in terms of the market," he said. "First of all, I think an industry being about 30 years old and still growing around 30% year-on-year is a sign of something that's fundamentally of tremendous value."

"I don't know if you saw my TEDx talk, but one of the fascinating things to me was that during the financial crisis, when the world was on the brink of collapse, we saw a decline in hardware sales and in new customers wanting to buy our equipment, but the consumption of materials was only impacted between one and five percent," Jaglom continued. "That showed me that those who weren't on board were pausing, but those who already had the equipment saw it as a necessity and not as a nice-to-have."

He has gotten the sense of a 3D printer becoming a necessity in multiple companies he's visited.

Jaglom is currently on a "listening tour" of North America, visiting companies and schools in different regions. He's recording some of these conversations in posts on his blog. A consistent theme is just how quickly customers come to depend on creating prototypes and models that they can hold in their hands and manipulate in three dimensions. Those qualities drive Jaglom's belief that the desktop professional market is just getting started.

"One important question to ask is the ratio of 3D CAD seats to 3D printers. Another is the number of design firms to 3D printers. Then there's the number of engineers graduating to the number of 3D printers. By any of those ratios the numbers [currently] are overwhelming," Jaglom said. "In a professional space, it makes sense to me to have a printer for every five to seven engineers. Today the number is roughly tenfold that, and it's tough to see how accurate that data is, but it's nowhere close to that ratio. I really do believe there's tremendous potential in the market."

In Jaglom's view, the 3D printer market is built on four pillars:

  • Compression of time (faster iteration of prototypes)
  • Cost of errors (catching errors early and allowing for engineering change orders earlier in the process)
  • Creativity
  • Confidentiality (since you don't need to work with a third party)

These four pillars come together, he said, to support the simple premise for 3D printing to succeed. "At the end of the day the 3D printer is the enabler that lets you better understand your future product."

When asked about specifics in MakerBots future, Jaglom talked about new composite materials, including wood, limestone, and metals combined with the PLA plastic that is one of the standards in the industry. He also spoke of the MakerBot smart extruders that should allow customers to quickly move between materials.

Ultimately, though, these are product differentiators rather than the basis for a market. MakerBot's long-term success or failure will ride on the company's -- and Jaglom's -- ability to convince consumers, educators, and engineers that the ability to print a bird in the hand is worth the price of admission to the 3D printing world.