In October I passed through the geek department at Amsterdam airport and witnessed that the first wave of mass consumer 3D printers had hit the shelves at a price point of around 1500 euros. A quick glance at Google showed multiple companies shipping a 3D printer to your own home for approximately the same price, 1 kg of raw material included.

3D factories are popping up in China using the machinery of the company AFS, sintering plastics, wax, sand – and even metals. China’s commercial-aircraft program will use a 12-meter long 3D printer to print titanium fuselage frames and even the landing-gear of a plane. Printing them directly out of metal will make them free of flaws that the older precast metal designs still suffer from.

The company Shapeways has created a successful marketplace hooking up designers, printing facilities and consumers to provide an endless catalogue of unique design objects ranging from art to jewelry to interior design.

The innovation opportunity is huge

The innovation opportunity is huge, both in B2B and B2C markets. In business, 3D prototypes will shorten production cycles and 3D made parts could actually be better alternatives as our Chinese example shows. In the consumer market, customized high quality 3D design items could kill half of the kitsch IKEA is selling in both price and looks.

The true innovation is not in building the best printer – there will be newer and better ones hitting the world markets every month. Much more critical is the identified value for each customer group; choice for the consumer, speediness and low cost for the enterprise, and the right type of a business model to tickle their respective sweet spots.

Meanwhile back in Finland, politicians and academics are humming to the tune that 3D printing will save the nation. Aside from the headlines, very little is happening. Some printing service here, an old-fashioned printer there. We are haunted by the ghost of our traditional innovation machine, one that’s good at producing hardcore grinders and widgets, but seldom new business models, services or fun things.

Who will be the first to build the iTunes or the Amazon of 3D-printing?

We are not sure yet, but stay tuned for the biggest industrial revolution since the spinning jenny!