I believe that the last vestiges of unadulterated hype are now withering away. We are entering a phase were calm, rational thinking takes the lead. This is a time in additive manufacturing’s life cycle when sensible initiatives are based on realistic expectation and a sound base of knowledge. This is a time when strategic plans supersede reactionary responses.
According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle, this phase in technological progression is called the Trough of Disillusionment. And according to Gartner, this disillusionment is a good thing, a necessary phase in progress.
For those that do not know the Hype Cycle, allow me to explain. At the pinnacle of hype, expectations are created that a technology simply cannot deliver on, at least in the present. Gartner calls this the Peak of Inflated Expectations. While it certainly raises awareness and fuels interest, the peak is not sustainable because reality is not aligned with expectations. When the reality does set in, a technology plunges into the Trough of Disillusionment.
In the trough, technology is simply a tool, one with strengths and weaknesses; opportunities and threats. When wielded properly and applied to a fitting situation, the tool is powerful. Lacking the cacophony of hype, it becomes is easier to identify when additive manufacturing is right for the job.
Don’t confuse disillusionment with apathy or indifference. Don’t presume that disillusionment means and end to innovation.
Don’t confuse disillusionment with apathy or indifference. Don’t presume that disillusionment means and end to innovation. And don’t conclude that disillusionment leads to thwarted adoption or declining sales. While each may be throttled a bit, there will still be ample enthusiasm, an abundance of original ideas and a growing number of additive manufacturing users.
The only significant difference is that realistic expectations lead to practical, near-term initiatives. We still need the visionaries, the dreamers, to plot the course for the long term. It is just that now, sensibility takes control over the short-term, strategic plans.
I suspect that you have already sensed that the hype bubble had popped. We no longer read story after story about the revolution in the home where we become our own manufacturers. Likewise, the number of headlines touting a manufacturing revolution has plummeted. Outside of trade media, we also read fewer stories that lead with “3D printing makes….”From the financial world, the evidence comes from stock prices inflated by unreasonable claims and then followed by a downturn when expectations align with reality.
For me, evidence of the disillusionment has come from long-established manufacturing trade associations. Motivated by a possible threat to their businesses — based on the hype about revolutions and disruptions — I have been invited to speak at annual meetings of four trade associations this year. After presenting my theme of opportunity, not threat, individuals approach me to offer thanks for lending credence to what they suspected was true. They were no longer buying into the hype.
These events also serve as evidence of the good nature of the Trough of Disillusionment. Rather than fretting over manufacturing springs, stampings, thermoformed parts and HVAC components, they were acting on sensible projects where additive manufacturing was a practical and powerful solution. They regaled me in tales of mock-ups and prototypes that saved the day. They shared stories of fabricating custom tooling, robot end-effectors and CMM fixtures that otherwise would have been impractical.
From these individuals, I sensed a calm confidence and a rational exuberance. The frenzy and furor of hype has been quieted, replaced with practicality. We still need to think big and innovate, but now we have time. The frantic urgency of hype is no longer the motivator.
Hype is withering, not dead, so we will continue to see evidence of it as it ripples through the farthest reaches. Of course, we will also continue to see it from those that have a vested interest in keeping the hype alive. But hype’s time has passed.
After the Trough of Disillusionment, we will enter the Slope of Enlightenment. Now doesn’t that sound wonderful?