订阅

多平台阅读

微信订阅

杂志

申请纸刊赠阅

订阅每日电邮

移动应用

商业 - 科技

3D打印黄金时代迟到的5大原因

Clay Dillow 2013年09月04日

花旗银行分析师发布报告称,2018年3D打印市场规模将达到目前的3倍,但不要认为这就是所谓的3D打印革命。受种种原因的制约,这个市场尽管增速惊人,但总体规模相对于传统制造业来说依然只是九牛一毛。

    如果说曾有人怀疑华尔街正热衷于炒作3D打印概念,那上周随着花旗集团(Citi)分析师肯尼思•王开始关注3D打印机生产商Stratasys公司和3D Systems公司,这种怀疑自然就烟消云散了。在一份客户报告中,肯尼思同时还表示,他深信3D打印设备及服务市场到2018年规模将增长到现在的三倍。他写道,这个市场“正蓄势待发,将有更多上游生产应用及终端消费市场大规模采用3D技术”。话音刚落,Stratasys和3-D Systems——以及该领域的其他厂商——的股票就应声飞涨。

    肯尼思•王表示,这个增长背后的推动力量是“随着客户开始不再局限于小批量数字化生产而扩大应用范围时,现有系统的使用率就会随之提高”。或者说得更明白些,3D打印机的价格正变得日愈低廉,使用更容易,同时适用于打印越来越复杂的物品和设计方案。同时还存在其他推动因素,比如随着目前这个领域一些限制竞争的关键专利到期,3D打印必将在未来几年里迎来爆发式的增长。

    肯尼思•王并不是第一个做出这个论断的分析师,不过不管出于什么原因,他断言看涨的客户报告还是受到了大众媒体的追捧,让3D打印类的股票当天下午一路飘红。不过,3D打印真的已经到了发展的引爆点吗?要按造势媒体的说法,全世界都正在朝着3D打印革命的方向一路飞奔。但是,尽管更廉价的打印机、即将到期的专利和更广泛的应用都确实有助于推动市场发展——也许也能在未来几年使目前尚处发端的3D打印市场规模翻上两番——不过要说这就是桌面生产革命还为时尚早。下面我们来分析一下原因:

1.相关专利确实即将到期,但它们并不是阻碍3D打印发展的因素。

    2014年将到期的专利是激光烧结技术,这是目前市场上3D打印技术中历史最长、成本最低的专利。激光烧结技术能生产出高分辨率的物品,在某些情况下可与制成品相媲美。不过尽管打印成本不高,但这种打印机的成本却十分高昂——工业级的打印机造价高达数万美元。按照现在的说法,由于存在知识产权保护而导致的竞争不足推高了造价,但当这些专利明年到期后这种打印机就会降价,使激光烧结的使用率增加,同时降低3D打印机的整体生产成本。

    但是,认为专利到期就将推动3D打印爆发发展的观点却隐含着一个关键问题:专利本身并不是阻碍3D打印市场发展的根本因素。

    德勤加拿大分公司(Deloitte Canada)的技术、传媒和通讯部门研究总监邓肯•斯图尔特表示:“之所以说3D打印市场今后并不会比现在更大主要不是因为知识产权问题或专利权归属问题。主要是因为,对生产我们现在所需要的绝大多数东西来说,3D打印机速度太慢,成本太高,或是——因为它们所能使用的原材料有诸多限制——它们无法方便地造出我们想要的东西。使3D打印市场无法发展到预期规模的最主要的因素始终在于3D打印机的易用性本身,而不是专利。”

    斯图尔特称,这些专利到期能解决成本问题,但却无法解决功能性这个更为根本的问题,“这些专利到期后确实会有所帮助,但却无法让市场发生翻天覆地的变化。”    

    If there was any doubt Wall Street is warming up to 3-D printing it was extinguished last week when Citi analyst Kenneth Wong initiated coverage of 3-D printer manufacturers Stratasys (SSYS) and 3D Systems (DDD), at the same time expressing in a client note that he believes the market for 3-D printing equipment and services will triple by 2018. The market "is on the cusp of seeing much broader adoption across more upstream production applications and the consumer end market," Wong wrote. Shares of Stratasys and 3-D Systems -- as well as others in the space -- spiked.

    "Increased utilization of existing systems as customers start to extend use case beyond small batch digital manufacturing" is behind this growth, Wong says. Or, more plainly, 3-D printers are becoming less expensive, easier to use, and applicable to more -- and more complex -- kinds of objects and designs. Factor in a confluence of other catalysts, like the expiration of key patents that currently discourage competition in the space, and 3-D printing is poised to explode in the next few years.

    Wong isn't the first analyst to make this observation, though for whatever reason his decidedly bullish client note found traction in the popular press, helping to buoy 3-D printing stocks for an afternoon. But has 3-D printing really reached its tipping point? To hear the hype machine tell it, the world is hurtling headlong into a 3-D printing revolution. But while cheaper printers, expiring patents, and a wider range of applications will certainly help drive the market -- and perhaps even triple the value of 3-D printing's nascent marketplace in the near term -- a desktop manufacturing revolution this is not. Here are five reasons why.

1. Patents will expire, but they're not what's holding 3-D printing back

    The patents set to expire in 2014 concern laser sintering, one of the oldest and lowest-cost 3-D printing technologies on the market. Laser sintering can produce high-resolution objects, good enough to be finished products in some cases. But though the cost of printing is low, the cost of the actual printers is quite high -- in the tens of thousands of dollars for industrial grade machines. A lack of competition caused by intellectual property protections keeps that price high, the theory goes, and when those patents expire next year the price of these machines will drop, increasing access to laser sintering technology and lowering the overall cost of manufacturing by 3-D printer.

    However, the idea that expiring patents will fuel an explosion in 3-D printing suffers from a key flaw: Patents aren't really what's holding the 3-D printing market back.

    "The reason 3-D printing isn't bigger than it is today is largely not because of intellectual property issues or who owns what patents," says Duncan Stewart, director of technology, media, and telecommunications research at Deloitte Canada. "It's the fact that for most of the things that we need in the world today, 3-D printers are too slow, too expensive, or that -- because of the limitations in the kinds of materials they can use -- they cannot easily make the things that you want to. The single biggest factor keeping 3-D printing smaller than it might otherwise be up until now has been the utility of 3-D printers, not the patents."

    The expiration of patents addresses one of those issues -- expense -- but it won't solve the more fundamental problem of functionality, Stewart says. "When the patents come off, that will help, but it doesn't suddenly transform the market."  

1 2 3 下一页

我来点评

  最新文章

最新文章:

500强情报中心

财富专栏