We generally prefer not to spend time dwelling on the business-side of additive manufacturing here at Top 4 3D. While we never get tired of new machines, new designs, weird ideas and out-there art pieces, whenever the talk turns to sales figures, growth-rates and market patterns, our eyes glaze over and our brains switch off.
Yet the new report entitled 3D Printers, Worldwide 2013 from Gartner, the world’s leading IT research company, makes for highly recommended reading, if for no other reason than it comes with the following statement from Pete Basilliere, Gartner’s research director.
The 3D printer market has reached its inflection point. While still a nascent market, with hype outpacing the technical realities, the speed of development and rise in buyer interest are pressing hardware, software and service providers to offer easier-to-use tools and materials that produce consistently high-quality results.
Of all the things said and written about 3D printing over the last three years of hype and counter-hype, this is one of the most concise, accurate and complete descriptions of the present and future of the technology anybody has yet produced. Of course, if, like us, you know sod-all about economics, you’ll have had to look up the terms ‘inflection point’ (An event that results in a significant change in the progress of a company, industry, sector, economy or geopolitical situation – Thanks, Investopedia!) and ‘nascent market’ (A small, newly developing market – Ditto, Wikipedia!). Yet Basilliere is right on the money about what 3D printing is and is not.
The report highlights the continued growth in sales of 3D printers below the $100,000-mark and forecasts even greater sales figures for these devices over the coming years. It also points out that the vast majority of 3D printers are bought for commercial use, by companies looking to manufacture and test one-off prototypes or produce small parts.
As the market becomes more competitive, however, machines will become more affordable and a desire to make hardware and software that is accessible to the widest audience of users will drive the industry.
While Gartner does see a future where buying personal 3D printers become more popular, it predicts this will only come after the invention of a ‘killer app’, which makes the process more accessible and practical for the day-to-day user and, thus, pushes sales.
All of which feels like a very sensible, very clear-minded view of a technology that seems to drive people’s imaginations into overdrive at its very mention. Here are a few more forecasts from the Gartner report:
- Gartner predicts a 49% rise in shipments for 3D printers under the 100 grand price mark by the end of 2013. This figure will rise to 75% by the end of 2014, which would be a total of 98,065 machines shipped that year.
- By 2015, Gartner reckons seven of the 50 largest retailers on the planet will be offering 3D printers to their customers.
- Combined user-spending on 3D printing and scanning devices should reach $412 million by the end of this year. That is up a whopping 43% from the 2012 figure and it will continue to rise over the following 12 months, with a 63% rise forecast by the end of 2014.
- The industries that will be most affected by 3D printing will be those involved in the production of consumer products and industrial manufacturing. Construction, education, energy, government, medicine, military, retail, telecommunication, transportation and utilities will also be affected, though in a less profound manner. The financial sector may also be mildly affected.