The Business Model for 3D Printer Cartridges

By markvillacampa on January 27, 2014 — 1 min read

The past CES show in Las vegas included a lot of 3D printing, and some of the industry leaders introduced new 3D printers. Some of these new models came with news regarding material cartridges.

3D Systems has always used proprietary filament cartridges with an incorporated chip very much like traditional ink printers. Makerbot is heading towards that direction with its new printers. While not coming so far as to include a chip , the new Replicators feature special compartments where the spool is held in place, making it more difficult for third party spools to fit in. Although proprietary cartridges make it easier to hide the filament from sight and make for more externally appealing printers, I would not be comfortable with personal 3D printer manufacturers adopting old ink printer industry practices. Meaning, I would not like to see cheap personal 3D printers subsidized by manufacturers making money selling overpriced propietary cartridges.

Unlike ink printer manufacturers who have very little control over the production of what you print (you can print whatever text document or photo you download or create), 3D printer manufacturers have the opportunity to create an ecosystem where they are creators of most of the 3D files to be printed. By promoting, creating and selling 3D content, they establish an additional revenue stream. A fair pricing for cartridges will make users buy more of them, to print even more 3D models acquired from the same manufacturer. This is a much healthier ecosystem for content creators, 3D printer manufacturers and, more importantly, users.

3D printers would last longer and could have a higher price, further pushing development of better, higher quality printers and new technologies. Charging for 3D models and making them a non-commodity is positive for the creative industry and develops a higher sense of value for the user in what they print.