Consumer 3D printing not quite there yet

GartnerWhile 3D printing is a much talked about topic these days with several startups getting crowdfunding to deliver such solutions, Gartner beileves that the technology is five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption.

The research firm pointed out that consumer adoption will be outpaced by business and medical applications that have more compelling use cases in the short term.

“Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption. Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 startups worldwide are developing and selling consumer-oriented 3D printers, priced from just a few hundred dollars. However, even this price is too high for mainstream consumers at this time, despite broad awareness of the technology and considerable media interest,” said Pete Basiliere, Research Vice President of Gartner.

Gartner has identified two themes concerning 3D printing.

  1. The enterprise 3D printing market is very different from the consumer market. They are driven by different uses and requirements and must be evaluated separately.
  2. 3D printing is not one technology but seven different ones, with each having its pros and cons.

“Hype around home use obfuscates the reality that 3D printing involves a complex ecosystem of software, hardware and materials whose use is not as simple to use as ‘hitting print’ on a paper printer,” said Basiliere.

Source: Gartner (July 2014)

3D printing and its uses continue to evolve rapidly in response to hype, greater visibility and, more importantly, demand. Naturally, some technologies are maturing faster than others and will be widely available in just a few years. In fact, some are already in general use. An example is 3D printing for prototyping, which has been the mainstay of the 3D printing industry since its inception.

3D prototyping enables organisations to reduce or mitigate the risks associated with the design, form and functionality of products in research and development programs. It may also be used to support new manufacturing processes, and can reduce new product development schedules,” said Basiliere.

In two to five years, there will be greater adoption of enterprise 3D printing, nurtured in part by the continued acceptance and use of 3D print creation software, 3D scanners and 3D printing service bureaus. “At around this time, 3D printing of medical devices will offer exciting, life-altering benefits that will result in global use of 3D printing technology for prosthetics and implants,” he added.

Macro 3D printing of large structures and classroom 3D printing are more than 10 years away from mainstream adoption. This is not to say that valid use cases for each do not exist:  the work on macro 3D printing shows great promise but has only just begun.

Meanwhile, adoption of any new technology within secondary and post-secondary schools, even one as transformative as 3D printing, is always expensive and difficult to implement, especially when considered in relation to the explosion of other educational technology that is competing for attention in the classroom.

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