What will be the next really big business opportunity? I wrote recently about 3D printers. If you already own an inkjet or laser printer, you know how aggravating and expensive it is to operate. I do a lot of printing, and I always make sure I have extra cartridges close at hand. It is not by accident that I have spent more money for ink than I paid for my printer. In fact, I have paid for another laptop in ink costs. Is that Epson I hear in the background laughing all the way to the bank?
I was around when the first IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) Selectric and daisy wheel printers hit the market. Back then, the daisy wheels would have to be replaced periodically, and you had to have an arsenal of them, since each supported only one font type. Replacing ribbons for the Selectric was a constant preoccupation, as well. The medium may have changed over the years, but the business strategy is just the same.
When I bought my last computer, the manufacturer threw in an inkjet printer for free. How could it do that? What if everybody got a printer for free? Oh, yeah, I get it. HP printer cartridges don't work with Brother cartridges. I have to buy Epson ink cartridges from Epson. If I bought a third-party cartridge, my Epson could be in deep dim sum. I can't take that chance, so I am well on my way to paying the equivalent price for another laptop.
The next goose that lays the golden egg is the 3D printer and all the supplies required to make the various parts, thus requiring an even greater variety of materials. Imagine, in the not-too-distant future, some form of 3D printer in every home that now has an inkjet. I sign on to Amazon and download a computer-aided design program for a gizmo with moving parts. The program loads into my 3D printer, and the onboard display says "Insert DuPont cartridge 23478 into cartridge well 1 and press OK. Insert Dow cartridge 57965 into well 2 and press OK. Insert Composite Pack 345 into Tank 1 and press OK. Verify color selections for subpart 1, 2, 3, and 4 and press Start." The next message tells you to return in 15 minutes to retrieve your finished product.
By the way, the kind people at DuPont have given you the 3D printer with your first five-cartridge order. That is golden egg opportunity No. 1.
At the professional level, I might run a 3D printing house for big stuff with lots of moving parts that are specifically formulated for the operating conditions they will experience during their normal lifetime. My inventory shelves are stocked with bin after bin of raw materials and various strengthening composites. Much like a pharmacist, I have all the elemental ingredients. All my bins have metered feed lines with flow sensors on the output ports.
My entire inventory is online. A numerically controlled machine interface allows me to take a long list of ingredients and select them in a batch mode where volume and parts per million mixtures can be aggregated into a central cartridge for a recipe specified by the manufacturer or designer for the part or assembly fabrication. Since material requirements vary, the computer selects the exact time the mixture is to be adjusted or an additional cartridge is to be brought online.
At present, there is one plastics manufacturer with more than 100 selectable recipes for 3D printer materials, but it is only a matter of time before that list expands to thousands of mixtures. Automatic, on-the-fly formulations will be the most affordable alternative to stocking thousands of bins with slightly different compositions. With just a few more mental twists and turns, we can create additional business opportunities for the materials support functions that will soon be required for 3D printing operations.
Home kits are already available online. As with any new technology, the early adopters are settling for a lot less than they will have to in just a few short years. Design your own dinnerware, table, and place settings today, and soon everything now made in plastic will be available in downloadable form and as easily accessible as a book or a song.
Be the first on your block to get a free -- that's right, I said free -- 3D printer today. We will throw in your first (partially filled) cartridge at no additional cost. Hey, kids, tell your mom and dad to get you started with your first project today. That's right, we will also send you, at no additional cost, an entire dinosaur farm with 13 life-like figures, complete with your own recycler for grinding those little critters up and making a whole new set. This offer expires in 10 days. Software not included. This set requires two No. 23567 cartridges. Additional cartridges not included.
Now I have only one question for you. How do you like your eggs -- golden?