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3D Printers & Copy Machines "is there a common thread"?

That was the deal when I was in grammar school in the sixties. If you needed a copy of something, you went to the local library.


I guess what I remember most about those machines, is that a copy cost a nickel, the top of the copier had a rubber mat to put the original under and the nine times out of ten the copiers were horrid! But, you didn't care as long as the copy was readable.


From time to time I'll source the web to find copier leads and RFP's. Lately, I've also added 3D printers to the list.  I'm finding a few here and there, but not nearly as many as all of the copier RFP's, but enough to keep me looking for more.


In recent months, I've seen more libraries & K12s posting RFP's for 3D printers, in fact the last library I came across was getting their 3rd 3D printer!


For those of us that make our living on selling hardware, it's pretty obvious that more and more 3D printers are being placed in Libraries, Colleges, Universities, and K12s across the country. 


It seems like many office technology dealers are looking to diversify from copiers these days. I believe that offering and supporting 3D printers is one of the best avenues we can take to diversification and increase revenue. Keep in mind I'm not referencing the inexpensive systems. 


In a recent discussion that I had with Andy Wager (Business Development Manager for ScanSource), Andy stated that 3D printers are still evolving.  We'll see many different types of material in addition to faster print speeds.  Kinda reminds me of the copier industry way back when.  The only copier you could buy had one paper tray, a moving top and it was slow. 


The Global 3D printing is expected to reach $20.2 Billion by 2019.


Many office equipment dealers are betting heavily that Managed Network Services, IT Services and Backup Disaster Recovery can be the Holy Grail of recurring revenue streams. I'm still not convinced of this since because the sales cycle is much longer, multiple parties need to be involved and there is no trigger (like that of the copier industry where a lease is about to expire) that would make a company make changes to their IT services.  Sales of these services seem to be based on pain, the prospect is having IT issues, can't find the right IT people or they've just experienced catastrophic loss. 


All of this comes from a sales person (me), that has sold hardware all of his life.  There is no WOW factor with IT services, there is no emotional connection to IT services.  IT is something we need to have, but we don't need to like it, it's a drain on profits and a non producer for customers.


I'm sure there are many dealerships that are doing well with IT services, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that over time, getting into the 3D Printer Market now will be more lucrative than the recurring revenue stream of IT services.


Would love to hear from others on this, and as Vince would say, "that's my two cents"!


-=Good Selling=-

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There is an interesting article in the April 2015 edition of the BTA Office Technology Magazine. I can't seem to get a link to it but it interviews dealerships who have been selling them already. Article is named "The Next Dimension: Are 3D printers a good fit for the BTA Channel" By Brent Hoskins. Maybe someone can post the link??

I know your comparison is very conceptual but there really is less commonality than you think. In the beginning copiers needed nothing but an original needing copied and the copier could fill the need. No variance in throughput, no variance in input. With 3D you have a variance in throughput that spans a very large Gamut from plastics to polymers to metals and unlike a copier, the hardware for each is radically different. Then you have the input. You can have a need and a printer and still be a long way from getting a finished product. 

The other problem is the business model. Entry level product authorization is anyone and everyone and supplies are open market. You go past entry level to any kind of vertical and you are looking at a sales territory that has yo be way bigger than a few counties in order to have a big enough prospect base. The printer and the salesman that targets a vertical will probably have very little opportunity to branch out.

My main point is that, at least for quite awhile, I don't see a mid level market. It seems to be either very entry level or very specialized and or customized.

We have had a 3D printer for a couple years and it has served as nothing but a novelty.



Thanx for the response!  Time will tell, and over time they will get faster and additional materials will come to market for building all types of items.


Take the copier industry and what if you had a 3D printer that could print on demand 25% of your parts. Reduce back orders, cut inventory, enhance the customer experience.  It's just a matter of time

Originally Posted by Art Post:



Thanx for the response,  3D printing is here to stay. However, it's not about now, it's about positioning your dealership as a technology leader and innovator.  3D printing sales will grow.  I look at the 3D industry and am comparing it to the copier industry in the early 70's.

I have no doubt that 3D printers will stay. The technology will only get more and more innovative. Is it technology that dealers will adopt? I'm sure many will try.


It may be too soon to say, but my gut feeling is that 3D printers will take a different caliber of sales person that belongs in very specific markets (healthcare, manufacturing). Your average commercial rep will not be cold calling door-to-door asking about 3D printing the way they do with copiers. You can already purchase a desktop-sized Makerbot online for $1500. 3D printers will require a dedicated rep who is very knowledgeable about the technology, its capabilities and the benefit, very much similar to how a production specialist operates. Workflow will be the biggest selling feature.

Last edited by Czech

Personally, I think you're right on with your ideas about 3D.  I don't know if it will ever have the acceptance copiers had in their heyday, but right now, it's a product looking for a market. 


I saw something intersting on TV involving a 3D printing application.  The company (which was not involved in any medical field) found it could use it's 3D printer to produce a prosthesis specifically designed for children.  Children grow and therefore quickly outgrow their artificial limbs.  This 3D printer was able to produce the limbs at a fraction of the cost of any previous technology.



Thanx for the response,  3D printing is here to stay. However, it's not about now, it's about positioning your dealership as a technology leader and innovator.  3D printing sales will grow.  I look at the 3D industry and am comparing it to the copier industry in the early 70's.

Hey Art,


We just got a desktop 3D Printer in our showroom. I expect it will do great at getting IT folks in for demos. The technology really is cool! But that's about it. From what I've seen, 3D printers have 0 practicality in an office or business environment. Perhaps the occasional school will purchase one.


A lot of dealerships sell telecom services on top of copiers. It's a very similar industry:

- 5 year contracts

- upfront hardware revenue that can be purchased or leased

- reoccurring monthly revenue from actual phone usage

- lots of opportunities for workflow enhancements, especially on the digital side

- competitive market with a lot of bad providers


I've found that wide format and document management make interesting conversations, but there is not a lot of profit in your average commercial deal. Phone systems on the other had are very profitable.

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