I agree with most of the comments from Ian, Brock, and Karl, and I enjoyed
Elaine's message that initiated the discussion. She's good at getting our
attention and response. As was suggested, a slowing of growth is
inevitable. This is especially true after vendors have "picked the low
hanging fruit" and are now reaching beyond the early adopters. What has
surprised most of us was how sudden it came. For companies that have "bet
the farm" on the future of RP, there's obvious reason for concern, but
let's not forget about RP's growth and development over its first decade.
As measured by money that people have spent on products and services (1988
through 1997), the RP industry experienced compounded annual growth of more
than 53% per year, on average. Not bad, especially considering that CNC
machining grew an average of 22% in its early years (1970 - 1981). The
overall machine tool market grew by only 8.5% from 1963 to 1973.
RP has become critical to the business of making models and prototype parts
at countless companies, so don't think for a moment that RP might
disappear. At the same time, we should prepare to face the likelihood
(harsh reality for some) that RP systems, 3D printers, or whatever you
choose to call them, will look a whole lot different in the future ......
just as our cars, phones, and computers now look different than they once
did. To me, that's what's exciting and what presents many of us with so
many new opportunities. I truly believe that there's this really big ice
burg hiding below the surface and we've only seen the tip of it. The
challenge facing system manufacturers, material suppliers, and service
bureaus will be to negotiate this big, invisible "thing" without taking on
water and going down. Some will make it, many will not.
Wohlers Associates, Inc.
OakRidge Business Park
1511 River Oak Drive
Fort Collins, CO 80525 USA
Fax (970) 225-2027
For more information about the rp-ml, see http://ltk.hut.fi/rp-ml/
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