The launch of the P1P 3D printer from Bambu Lab has changed our industry forever. It will shape our industry by bringing about a select group of Pandas, wannabe Bambu killers. The investment and skillset required to do this will not be available to many. A lot of firms will fail, as well. It will be hard to balance the software and hardware skills to develop a fully-featured, fast and reliable system available for $600 to $1,000. If done wel,l a few firms will be able to sell millions of machines. They will have evolved to be good enough to be a true consumer device, unlocking the desktop 3D printing revolution, after all. However, rather than happening in 2011 or 2014, it will happen in 2027 or later.
The Once and Future Past
That will be wonderful, of course. Tens of millions of devices will populate many living rooms and garages. Now, we would still have to solve the problem that most people are not creative and CAD is far too difficult (maybe artificial intelligence will step in there), but, at least then we could have a device that would work for most of us. Finally, the 3D printing revolution will occur and we can change the world, one layer at a time. That would be glorious of course.
Mass adoption of 3D printing may never be something for everyone. Maybe, the technology will just be in the homes of all of the creative, DIY, design, and craft people, alongside a Dremel or a good set of calipers or screwdriver. The industry can go from millions of 3D printing adherents today to hundreds of millions of 3D printing casual users in the future. All that is needed for that is a gradually improved Panda, a 3D printer that gets better every year for five years.
And we will get there. From here on out there is no magic needed. Just engineering, software, and good business sense. It will be hard, for sure. An integration and development task that integrates many different disciplines is very difficult indeed. But, it will also lead somewhere. Rather than meet a market that anyone casually browsing an electronics market in Shenzhen can enter, the future Bambu Lab machine and competing panda 3D printers that try to best it will have real competitive advantages. Secret sauces and engineering breakthroughs will be needed to win in this market. IP and branding as well as true excellence in engineering and business operations will be required also.
One Printer to Rule Them All
The Bambu Lab offering seemed intended to compete with the whole market by introducing a category-breaking product that would destroy existing players. Bambu was meant to make everyone obsolete in one fell swoop. The launch of a 3D printer never goes according to plan, so, although impactful, the P1P didn’t supplant the whole industry. Also, 3D printing market introductions take time. We are oft-bitten, now shy to new products and claims.
However, in the few years, it may very well usher in a revolution—only not alone, but aided by others. An improved Bambu plus similar offerings from Creality and a few others would fundamentally shift the market. Should pandemonium occur, the market will indeed concentrate and consolidate. Because a slightly better Panda series of 3D printers would not only be used by makers. These Panda systems will also make sense for print farms.
Are manufacturing with 3D printing? Why not use one of the ultra-reliable, quick and inexpensive 3D printers? Are you an enterprise customer? Why not use the Pandas, given their ease of use and performance. Sure, an Ultimaker is better, but you can get ten for the price of one. So, these Panda printers will compete against professional and premium machines before pushing into higher segments, as well. With high speed and high yield, as well as reliability, the Panda printers will be used across many segments. This will bring economies of scale and lead to the domination of most of the market by a select few firms.
From a Duet to a Solo
Because all of the Panda printers will come replete with software ecosystems and firmware made specifically for those systems, companies will invest significant money in apps, firmware, and software. Slicing software will be highly customized, as well. Perhaps it will still at its very core use Cura or Prusa, but changes will be significant. Perhaps, like we already see today, there may be some open source software there, but companies are unlikely to build and share in a true open source manner. Heck, next to no one does this now.
Companies will increasingly build firmware and other tools specific to them in order to differentiate themselves. The Ramps, Duets, Klipper, and Marlins of this world will be under threat, as will the Curas, the Astroprints, the Slic3rs, and even the nozzle makers. Now, nearly all manufacturers are all building printers to the same basic specs with a lot of common parts and open source software.
However, with a more controlled ecosystem, everyone will be more like Formlabs. Some may build their own firmware, slicers, and software to completely control the experience from the ground up. Others will pick and choose. And what will be under threat is this riotous jungle of vendors and options built around common tools built by everyone. But Panda 3D printers that have all the bells and whistles will also come with all of their own tools. And the more customized and unique those tools are, the more sticky and optimized that one 3D printer ecosystem will be. The better the software and the tighter the integration, the better the performance will be, as well. So, a large chunk of the market will go to a few players that will increasingly have proprietary tools.
In the final analysis, the market will be dominated by a few powerful players who can muscle in on all the profitable spots and win where they want to win through scale. In this scenario, Pandemonium will usher in both the rise of 3D printing to tens of millions of users and the death of the software, boards, and vendors that got us there.