Cheaper 3D printers with ‘plug and print’ functionality will cause shipments to double every year between 2015 and 2018, according to new research from Gartner, which also predicts strong enterprise demand as the technology matures.
Around 108,151 3D printers were shipped during 2014, a figure which is set to increase to 217,350 by 2015 and will reach 2.3 million units within four years, creating a $13.4 billion market.
Analysts believe that consumer demand will be primarily driven by cheaper, better performing and more widely available equipment, while enterprises will begin to see 3D printing as a viable way of creating prototypes, with lower costs and wider range of high quality materials also making such investments attractive.
“As radical as the forecast numbers may seem, bear in mind that even the 2.3 million shipments that we forecast will be sold in 2018 are a small fraction of the total potential market of consumers, businesses and government organisations worldwide.”
Material extrusion printers currently account for the vast majority of these project shipments with startups and smaller businesses taking advantage of low barriers to entry to create printers for less than $500. HP is among the larger tech firms expected to make a strong push into the enterprise market, but has not yet revealed full details of its plans.
However, Gartner questions whether these firms can generate enough revenue to fund services, sales, channel development and future development costs.
“The high material extrusion shipment growth numbers are basically driving the 3D printer forecast,” adds Basiliere. “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.”
Many of these will feature plug and print features that use standard materials, similar to conventional 2D printer ink cartridges, making it more likely that consumers can successfully create a 3D-printed product. Such printers, costing less than $1,000, will account for ten percent of the market by 2016.
“This trend will accelerate as the market consisting primarily of early adopters who grew up with an open-source approach without lock-ins evolves into a market in which average consumers dominate,” adds 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.”
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