Education is probably one of the areas that will benefit the most from 3D printers in the long run. The problem though is getting the machines into the schools in the first place. With prices generally ranging from $400 to $3,000 for typical desktop 3D printers, they are not cheap, and with budgets within many school districts running dry, both in the United States and overseas, the unfortunate fact is that many schools simply can’t afford them, not to mention the materials and time it takes to train teachers to use them.
Speaking with former MakerBot CEO, Jenny Lawton, at CES this year, she told me that 3D printing will become mainstream and really begin to explode as far as adoption rates go, when a full cycle of education has been exposed to the technology. Just like many of us who were exposed in school to desktop computing back in the ’80s and ’90s can’t envision not having access to a computers now, the children of today may one day think the same about 3D printers.
The United States clearly understands the importance of this technology, particularly President Obama. In addition to investing heavily to bring manufacturing back to US soil, he has mentioned the importance of 3D printing on several occasions, visiting manufacturing facilities that are using 3D printers, and even going as far speaking about the technology in one of his State of the Union Addresses.
With that said, news coming out of Tapei, Taiwan today, from Simon Shen, the CEO of Kinpo Group (parent company of XYZprinting), suggests that China is about to one-up the United States in a big way.
According to Shen, the Chinese government has a new policy to install a 3D printer in each of its approximately 400,000 elementary schools over the next two years. This number caught me totally off guard for two reason. First of all, that’s a lot of elementary schools. For instance, in the United States we have approximately 70,000 elementary schools, and approximately 100,000 total public schools. As a nation we could easily match China’s ambitions. If the average desktop 3D printer costs $1,000, that would equate to about $100M in added expense to the education budget of our nation. Sounds like a lot cash, and certainly it is, but such a figure would only equate an additional tax burden of around $0.30 for each man, woman, and child in this country.
Additionally, the fact that Gartner predicts that a total of 217,000 3D printers will ship this year, and about double that, or 434,000 machines will ship in 2016, makes me think that they may have underestimated the size of the total market yet again. XYZPrinting announcing two weeks ago that they had partnered with Magic Factory, a new e-commerce subsidiary of Lenovo Group Ltd., for the distribution of their 3D printers, and that they anticipate shipping 100,000-120,000 machines this year alone only adds fuel to the fire
The market is growing, and faster then even some of the top analysts had expected. As schools are provided with these machines and the tools necessary to educate the masses, adoption rates will only continue to rise. With China’s recent plan for education, the ball is now clearly in Obama’s court. With a little under two years left in his final term, will he follow suit and fund a similar program to the one China has planned? We can only hope!
As for the details on China’s impressive plan, nothing has been made available to the public as of yet, but it will be interesting to see which 3D printers they choose to put into these schools. With XYZprinting offering up machines for under $500, and with offices located within China, there is a very good possibility that they could be contributing a large portion of these printers. In fact, Shen is counting on it, saying, “It will be our growth driver of the third quarter and fourth quarters.”