Stratasys and Adobe think they have the answers to solve some of the most important problems facing 3D printing.
While the technology behind 3D printing has been around for decades, the past five years has seen the price drop and the technology become a more widely available. Still, it's momentum has stalled out over the past year.
Why has it had trouble going mainstream? Here are four major hurdles in implementing the technology:
- Workflow—The process from design to final product is long and cumbersome.
- Materials—Most printers only print one material, greatly limiting options for products.
- Mechanics—A certain degree of technical expertise is normally required to operate the files, software, and printers. Not everyone who wants to create 3D objects has an engineering background.
- Financial—The current cost of ownership is too high.
How do more people get over the hump? On Monday, John Gould, Stratasys President of North America, said his company plans to make 3D printing more accessible by partnering with Adobe to streamline the creation process.
What does the partnership mean? Stratasys's Objet Connex3 line now includes new materials, significantly expanding its color palette from 46 to over 1000 colors.
"Historically, color 3D prints were somewhat muted or dull because of the off-white powder or plastic material used to make the item," said Pete Basiliere, 3D printing analyst at Gartner. "Stratasys' new bright white material coupled with the broader range of colors that can now be printed makes vivid colors possible. The broader color range means designers have a very realistic palette to work with."
The result will be "very realistic prototypes and more saleable finished goods," according to Basiliere.
And the new software platform, Stratasys Creative Colors Software, powered by the Adobe 3D Color Print Engine will "drastically simplify the workflow from design to printing a 3D part," said Gould, "which will be a catalyst to getting 3D printing mainstream."
Stratasys's primary users today are CAD engineers working on prototype designs. The new software will help simplify things so they can be more productive. But it also opens up a whole new group of users: people in the design world who don't have the technical skills required to use the technology today.
"The partnership with Adobe, the leader in digital experience platforms, will totally change the game in 3D printing," said Gould. "Millions of Photoshop users can use our software, Object Studio. What's crazy cool about that is we've optimized our Connex3 materials to Adobe's color profiles."
This is no small victory. Right now, it takes a number of complex and cumbersome steps to design a 3D printed object, especially if it uses different colors and materials. To make a lamp, for example, involves creating a Photoshop design, then applying colors in a "laborious" process that can take hours, exporting the file, which often has errors, and then using another software to clean it up. And in the case of different materials for the shade and base, for example, different printers are used. Then they need to be cleaned.
Three years ago, Stratasys, which specialized in industrial material, merged with Objet, a company with expertise in polyjet, a more refined process. The result? Stratasys is now one of the biggest players in the 3D game—and, as such, its announcement is likely to have a ripple effect for the 3D printing industry.
Right now, said Gould, there's a massive prototyping opportunity, which is a $10 to $15 billion market. And less than a quarter is produced through 3D printing—the other uses traditional manufacturing like CNC, Injection Molding, etc.
That means "there's a huge opportunity for 3D printing to take more of the pie," said Gould.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- The color options will jump from 46 to over 1000, opening up possibilities for creating specific prototypes.
- The partnership with Adobe streamlines the process of designing and creating 3D objects.
- A new group of designers and professionals will be able to use 3D printing technology.
- 3D printing: The trends that will change the game in 2016 (TechRepublic)
- What's new in 3D printing? Five leaders at EmTech 2015 weigh in (TechRepublic)
- New book 'Inventology' shows how today's inventors can tap big data, 3D printing, crowdfunding, and more (TechRepublic)
- CES 2016: The crowded field of 3D printers, in photos (TechRepublic)
Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.