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Outside the box

No scaling? No problem

Columne Outside the box / by Thomas Masuch — 10 March 2022

The notion that working just for the sake of it is contrary to human nature isn’t exactly new. In fact, the English physician and philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) was doing his best to get the word out over 300 years ago. The beliefs of this renowned pre-Enlightenment figure nevertheless seem more current than ever in the industrialized nations of the West. In the United States, millions of people decided to quit their jobs last year in a wave that has been dubbed the “Great Resignation”. Rarely have so many been looking forward to the day they’ll be able to put their feet up for good, as well: According to a survey conducted by the New York Federal Reserve, the share of U.S. citizens who can see themselves working beyond their 62nd birthday has fallen to 50.1 percent. This means around half of the country’s 150 million employees are planning to retire early.

Illustration: feedbackmedia.de, iStock / Ponomariova_Maria
Illustration: feedbackmedia.de, iStock / Ponomariova_Maria

One reason why that sweet idleness has become (even) more attractive may have to do with how bullish the stock market has been of late, which has surely plumped up the pensions many people have to look forward to. Last year, it almost didn’t matter which shares you bought, especially in the U.S. The market was booming behind big tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, Tesla, and Nvidia, which are close to having monopolies in some areas of their respective sectors. You could practically take the Homer Simpson approach – that is, make investments without any particular expertise and watch the money roll in.

Those holding shares in 3D printing companies, however, were probably somewhat less enthused. While these stocks also rose along with the rest of the market, their long-term performance has been rather modest compared to the likes of Apple and Tesla. In spite of the AM market’s growth, which has averaged around 20 percent for a number of years now, most companies’ share prices are currently well below their all-time highs.

More “industry” than “tech”

Part of the reason why is surely that, for all its cutting-edge characteristics, Additive Manufacturing is still more “industry” than “tech”. An integral element of success in the latter realm – namely the art of scaling up – is considerably harder to achieve in the world of AM. The applications are complex, after all; they often require a lot of expertise, and they can’t be reproduced as many times as one wishes.

This may have disappointed many investors, but it does come with a silver lining for the AM industry: In the world of 3D Printing, individual companies don’t have monopolies. An atmosphere of fair competition has emerged, and the sector tends to stick together like one big “fAMily”. Meanwhile, the market is still healthy and growing thanks in part to the young, innovative companies that join it every year. That’s great to see at any scale.

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