This being the beginning of a new year, it is unsurprising to find plenty of predictions being made regarding the future of the 3D print industry. Across the web, you’ll find everybody from major investment analysts to lowly tech bloggers like us passing judgement on the past, present and future of additive manufacturing, before offering their own two cents on whether this most feted of technologies can deliver on the hyperbole.
Of all the research we’ve come across this week, two reports stand out, not only for their clarity and the depth of their analysis, but also for their optimism: the research note from Cannacord Genuity’s Bobby Burleson and the Freedonia Group’s ‘World 3D Printing to 2017’ report. While both suggest caution and consideration to anybody entering the market, they express a surety that 3D printing’s reach will continue to grow over the next three years.
More complex investment strategies – Cannacord Genuity
The key prediction in the Canadian banking and financial service company’s research note is that the market will ‘become more complex in 2014’. This complexity will stem from greater aggression from the major players in the industry, a more divergent service bureau business model and greater developments in metal additive manufacturing.
Central to any successful investment will be an understanding of the 3D printing supply chain. Pointing to 3D Systems’ July acquisition of Phenix Systems, a global provider of direct metal selective sintering devices, and Swedish firm Arcam’s intended purchase of metal powder supplier AP&C as two examples, Cannacord predicts big companies taking more control over an increasingly complex supply market.
Though it might be ABS and PLA consumer 3D printing that gets the headlines, like most analysts, Cannacord sees the real future for additive manufacturing in metal. In particular, it sees an increasingly demanding aerospace market opening up for 3D print companies over the next twelve months, with a focus on titanium parts. Also, Cannacord believes orthopaedic implants will be another product in high demand.
20% growth, year on year – Freedonia Group
The stand out prediction from Freedonia’s ‘World 3D Printing to 2017’ is a 20% rise, every year, in global demand for 3D printing, between now and 2017. Like Cannacord, Freedonia reckons the development of metal printing will be crucial to this growth, though it does also predict a solid rise in demand for consumer, desktop 3D printers as prices continue to drop.
Again, aerospace and medicine are cited as being crucially important for the future of additive manufacturing. In particular, Freedonia’s report mentions dentistry as a big growth area, with items such as 3D printed braces, crowns and bridges all in demand.
Market-wise, Freedonia sees the United States as remaining the centre of additive manufacturing for some time, predicting it will account for 42% of global sales in 2017. Chinese interest in 3D printing will, however, also grow rapidly in that time.
Reasons to be cheerful?
While both of these analyses suggest an exciting time ahead for 3D printing, it is worth noting that, for every report hyping the technology there is another expressing extreme caution. One of the most coherent examples of the latter is that of Jefferies analyst Peter Misek. Though Misek does believe that the demand for 3D printed prototypes and designs will rise, he also states that mass manufacturing via additive manufacturing is unlikely to take off for at least another year, while consumer 3D printing may never take off at all, due to the high costs related to the process.
So, in 2014, we can expect aggressive acquisitions, greater developments in metal printing and increased interest in 3D printing for medical and aerospace purposes. Those looking forward to the day when a 3D printer sits beside the microwave in every home, however, should perhaps not hold their breath.