3D Printing — What Users expect?
3D printing services is a fairly tricky market, globally. But from my experience, it is trickier in India. First of all, Indian customers have been using this technology for a good 15 years. Good news is that, India has been innovating since then. The market has somewhat expanded rapidly in last 3 years, from explaining customers what is 3D printing, to answering more evolved questions about performance and materials
But on top of everything, we have observed that the consumers in India have kind of lost their hope over 3D printing. Firstly, they do not get an engineering solution. Secondly, after so many years we are still struggling on the basic nitty-gritties in 3D printing which are hindering the adoption of this technology.
In past 3 years, we had collected data and we found following aspects more prevailing in customer expectations:
- Continuous wait for quotations: Making quote for 3D printing is a time consuming task. Each file takes around 5–7 mins for complete analysis. These analysis involve downloading the file, opening it in a suitable software, analyzing part geometry and features based on the desired material and technology. If all is okay, we extract parameters for costing/delivery timeline computation, and create a quotation and send it across to the customer.Most of the inquiries comes in the time span of 2–6 PM. Any request after 7 PM for the quote is processed on the next day (a complete waste of day for customers to get a prototype).Making quotation manually is an ineffective operational process which results in wastage of the 3D printing service provider’s time and it makes the consumer wait for hours, in certain cases for 12 hours.
- Right cost: There is no market standard as of yet for 3D printing. And I am saying this being technology agnostic and material agnostic. Consumers get baffled with varied pricing that they receive. With such a difference, they tend to go with cheapest option available. They do not understand the compromise in the quality that they receive. Some are okay with inferior quality but overall it is hard to judge the pricing difference for the same technology and same material. We found drastic different in costing to 3D printing an iPhone case of volume 16 cucm
- Right time: 3D printing is also referred to as “RAPID” Prototyping. It is all about time. The faster the prototype can be fabricated, the happier the customer. But if a customer has to wait for 4 days (in case of plastic prototyping) and 10–15 days (for metal direct manufacturing), 3D printing is not really fast.
From our customer survey, customers are ready to pay more provided they get faster delivery.
- Right Quality: Quality differs from machine to machine. For industrial machines, it also depends on how machines are maintained. How old is the machine. There is no standard governing body for such practices in the market. Someone may claim that, a wall thickness less than 1 mm can be manufactured in FDM. With good practice, we all know that it is not true, but there is no standard or benchmark for the same.
- Too many jargons: An architect does not want to know SLS, FDM, or SLA is. He needs a model in full color in 3 days. A college student does not want to know that either, he wants an air intake that can fit and perform in his Formula SAE car. People who do not know much about 3D printing, complain that it is too difficult to find the right solution that can solve their problem. It’s too technical to get into the nitty-gritty of FDM, SLS, and SLA. Materials are endless and most importantly they don’t work like the way they do in injection molding.
Market research shows how technology has effectively helped global 3D printing firms evolve fast and respond to customer demands. In India, the basic framework is missing and it is important for us to innovate beyond making day to day quotation for customers. We need to provide our customers right solution in the shortest possible time at the most economically feasible cost making sure that no matter where the parts are made, the quality is consistent or at the least, predictable.