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3D printing: Don’t believe the hype

This article was originally published on 24 June 2013.

I wanted to bring this article from CBS News to your attention because I always get nervous when I see people run though a list of emphatic reasons why a new technology won’t be disruptive.

In case you haven’t seen it before, here are some of the very well structured arguments by execs at Kodak in the late 80’s as to why digital photography wasn’t a threat to their business:

  • “The quality of prints from electronic images will not be generally acceptable to consumers as replacement for prints based on the science of photography,” by which Kodak meant traditional film and prints
  • “The consumer’s desire to handle, display, and distribute prints cannot be replaced by electronic display devices.”
  • “The incompatibility of electronic-imaging systems to a full range of VCR and video disc devices in the market will be a barrier to widespread amateur acceptance of those systems.”  In other words, even if consumers didn’t have a strong preference for prints, it was going to be hard to hook the cameras up to electronic displays.
  • “In-home, personal electronic print systems will not be competitive in terms of price and quality with commercial print-making services.”
  • “Electronic systems (camera and viewing input device for TV) will not be low enough in price to have widespread appeal.”

We all know how that ended.  Those arguing that 3D printing won’t be as disruptive as many think may turn out to be right.  I wouldn’t bank on it though.  The arguments against 3D printing may be very reasonable today but we all know that things change.  Moreover, it’s generally dangerous to bet against the megatrends.  The moral of the story for me is that it pays to be sceptical whenever you hear someone confidently dismiss the disruptive impact of a new technology.  The more confident and the more arrogant the dismissal, the more sceptical and the more worried I would be.

(Kodak arguments sourced from the book “Billion dollar business blunders” by Paul Carroll & Chunka Mui)

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