3D Printed Ankle

A month or so ago I gave a small talk at a software event. I presented the fairly basic idea that 3D printing becomes more powerful when combined with software designed for 3D Printing. The presentation could basically be summed up like this:

 

The project we did in connection to this was to topologically design and print/manufacture an ankle for a tennis player. Weight was reduced by 18% with a very conservative approach. Later there was a small interview which was publicized here.

Working on this project and looking at the prosthetic foot and all its components, I was surprised to learn how rudimentary they are. I guess high priced prosthetic are one of the things we think have a lot more going for them but turn out to be rather simple. A rough estimate makes me think we could reduce the weight of the entire prosthetic by around 40-50% as well as increase certain biomechanical performance metrics like, comfort, usability, utility and certain economic metrics like cost and lead time by a factor of 3. People that are doing projects like these are fairly quiet but I suspect some people in the energy and medical industries have already figured this same thing out and this is driving the huge metal 3d printing system sales we are seeing in Q42017. I’d expect this trend to continue and even accelerate.

What does HP’s 3D Printer Announcement Mean for Japan

HP unveiled its partners for distributing its new series of 3D printer.

By teaming up with HP as the world’s first HP 3D Printing Master Partners, Mutoh and Ricoh will bring best-in-class expertise and knowledge of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology to customers deploying the solutions….HP introduces its award-winning commerical 3D printing solution…Japanese businesses are starting to embrace the transformative potential of 3D printing, a market that saw more than 104 percent in revenue growth from 2015 to 2016, according to data from IDC. Its expected to reach $670 million in sales by 2020.

Not too surprising here, Ricoh and Mutoh have a large sales network, maybe two of the largest in Japan, already in place where they can push the printer into hands of their clients. My guess is that they want to show some quick sales on their books and will introduce a different printer down the road. Having seen the printer at expo, it offers a lot of great advantages, but not nearly as ‘groundbreaking’ as people tend to make it out to be. I also think the price point is very good for small-medium businesses in Japan where it will be on the market for around 30,000,000 JPY + service agreements. Although, I’m skeptical that it will have success in that market because the major challenges tend to be application engineering/how to actually use a 3D printer to make more money for a business.

 

HP seems to be aware of this issue when they write:

Mutoh and Ricoh are set to collaborate with HP to open a 3D Printing Reference and Experience Center in Tokyo that will showcase the HP Jet Fusion 3D printing solutions and enable deeper engagement with customers.

It is defiantly a step in the right direction a large part of the success will come down to execution. I think the big challenge is that most small-medium businesses in Japan are almost totally ruled by their CFO/finance department and tend to be rather short sighted about adopting new technical solutions. I believe most of this class tends to think that labor costs are cheaper than the technical solution, but that is typically only true on a marginal basis and overtime the whole company suffers and stagnates. Companies that do adopted HP’s solution and take it seriously as a new capability and skill for their company will benefit greatly, but arguments like that are hard to quantify but these sorts of people get nervous when you say not everything can be quantified.

The 104% YoY growth for 3D printing revenue in Japan is totally bogus. Either it is wrong on factual merits or through tortured econometrics. Business 3D printing did grow but probably by 1/3rd of that and the desktop market either stayed the same or shrank. Either way, I don’t think HP will be a big part of that market based on issues with applicability in Japan, but I hope I’m wrong because it does offer a really good solution for some specific business needs.