Beginning as an idea in the mind of Chuck Hull in 1984, 3D printing didn’t rise to public attention until recently and has largely been seen more as a technology with future prospects than with present applications.
However, this is changing and as more applications of 3D printing are becoming clear and more affordable printers are entering the market, public interest in and the purchase of additive printers is increasing exponentially with each coming year.
This is best illustrated by Gartners Recent Prediction that worldwide shipments of 3D printers will double in 2015 as compared to 2014 and will continue to do so till 2018.
Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company, analyzes and publishes its predictions for various information technology market segments each year. In its analysis of additive printing this year in October, Gartner predicted that in 2015, 3D printer shipments will rise to 217,350 as compared to 108,151 in the present year.
They will continue to double each year after that so that in 2018, 3D printer shipments are expected to reach more than 2.3 million! This translates to end-user spending of $1.6 billion in 2015 and $13.4 billion in 2018 on 3D printers. Pete Basilier, the research vice president at Gartner, says:
“As we noted last year, the 3D printer market is at an inflection point. Unit shipment growth rates for 3D printers, which languished in the low single and double digits per year throughout the 30 years since the first 3D printers were invented, are poised to increase dramatically beginning in 2015.”
Gartners predictions are in accordance with a Recent Report From Canalys which shows 16% increase in 3D printer shipments in the 3rd quarter of 2014 as compared to the previous quarter.
Why this sudden rise in 3D printer shipments, you wonder? Well, consumer market is the key here. Gartner says that a large part of the 217,350 shipments of 3D printers in 2015 will be formed by low-cost printers aimed at consumers rather than expensive high-end printers for large companies. Many established manufacturers of 3D printers, like Stratasys and 3D Systems, have realized this and have shifted their focus from enterprise to the consumer market segment.
This was the main reason why Stratasys recently acquired MakerBot, a manufacturer of low-cost desktop additive printers. As an immediate effect of the acquisition, Stratasys reported the largest revenue in 3D printer market segment, in the 3rd quarter of this year, with a large part of their revenue coming from sale of MakerBots consumer-class printers.
In addition to these large manufacturers, small companies are entering the market regularly and are offering 3D printers at amazingly low prices. One example is Printrbots Printers with prices as low as $350! Pete Basilier says:
“New providers are entering the market, sometimes directly, sometimes through Crowdfunding Campaigns, on what seems like a daily basis. These providers are leveraging the expiration of early extrusion technology patents to make low-cost, low-priced devices targeted mainly at consumers.”
Gartner published its predictions in the form a graph last year demonstrating clearly that consumer market will outpace the enterprise market in the coming years…
Most of the new companies and start-ups entering 3D printer market are using material extrusion as their main 3D printing technology. This is not only because its simplicity and cost-effectiveness but also because most early patents of material extrusion technology have expired and more complex 3D printing technologies, like directed energy deposition and power bed fusion, are still patented by large companies.
However, whether these small companies will be able to continue providing additive printers at low costs and still cover the cost of their research and development remains to be seen.
As for the average selling prices (ASPs) of 3D printers, Gartners report tells us that instead of decreasing prices, most manufacturers will focus on adding additional features to their devices. Again quoting Pete Basilier:
“Manufacturers will strive to add features and improve performance in the first few years rather than reduce the prices of printers. Therefore, the ASPs of a few technologies are expected to increase or to gradually decrease in the outer years after an increase in 2014 or 2015.”
The most important of these features, according to Gartners prediction will be the plug-and-print feature. Traditionally, buying, setting up and printing objects with 3D printers is associated with a lot of Learning from Failures.
Technical expertise and multiple tries are needed to successfully print beautiful objects, as demonstrated by our 3D Printing Beginner Series. This has been a major problem in the mainstream adoption of 3D printing.
Consumers simply want hassle-free devices which they can just plug into their computers and hit a print button on their screen to print their 3D objects as easily as they print their documents and pictures with 2D printers.
Therefore, many manufacturers are working to simplify the whole process by adding features such as locked-in materials, automated bed levelling and heated build chambers all of which increase the likelihood of successful print. Plug-and-print functionality will be incorporated into 10% of the 3D printers below $1000 in 2016. According to Mr. Basiliere:
“While the early adopters will rage at the perversion of the 3D printer open-source ethos, the vast majority of mainstream consumers will demand the simple and consistent operation that ‘plug and print’ can provide them.”
In conclusion, Gartners prediction makes it clear that 3D printing has a very bright future and that the public has begun to realize its real potential. Low-cost simple printers which enable the average consumer to print their objects with minimum hassle will form the bulk of the future 3D printers.
The year 2015 seems to be the turning point for additive printing when it changes from being a technology locked up in research laboratories to something lying on our desks making our everyday objects like Decoration Pieces, Toys, utensils and even Food.
Do you agree with Gartners predictions? Are you planning on Buying a Low-Cost 3D Printer yourself? Do let us know in the Comments section. Also, please Like and Share the article with your friends.