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Moving beyond the ‘hype’ to growth for 3D printer sales

The global market for both consumer and enterprise standard 3D printers of a value less than US$100,000 is predicted to grow by almost 50% by the end of this year, according to one analyst firm.


In its latest forecasts for the 3DP market, Gartner predicts the 2013 market will grow by 49% to reach a total of 56,507 units, with rapid quality and performance innovations across all 3DP technologies driving enterprise and consumer demand.

According to Gartner, there will be further increases in shipments in 2014, with a forecast that shipments will grow 75% to 98,065 units, followed by a near doubling of unit shipments in 2015.

While the North American and Western European regions have so far dominated the market, Gartner says that Greater China's 98.8% CAGR will outstrip them by up to six points by 2017.

In mature Asia/Pacific countries, shipments of 3D printers are forecast to grow 52.1% in 2013 to reach 3,817 units and 70,295 units by 2017, while in emerging Asia Pacific markets, total shipments are expected to grow 55.7% to reach 1,643 units in 2013 and reach more than 14,800 units in 2017.

"The 3D printer market has reached its inflection point," said Pete Basiliere, Research Director at Gartner.

"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."

This year, Gartner says that combined end-user spending on 3DPs will reach US$412 million, up 43% from $288 million in 2012. Of that end-user total, Gartner says that enterprise spending will total more than $325 million in 2013, while the consumer segment will reach nearly $87 million. In 2014, spending will increase 625%, reaching $669 million, with enterprise spending of $536 million and consumer spending of $133 million.

"As the products rapidly mature, organisations will increasingly exploit 3D printing's potential in their laboratory, product development and manufacturing operations.

"In the next 18 months, we foresee consumers moving from being curious about the technology to finding reasons to justify purchases as price points, applications and functionality become more attractive."

According to Gartner, Greater China’s emphasis on developing its additive manufacturing base, including national, regional and city government initiatives to support business and research initiatives, will drive strong growth, “conservatively lifting its purchases from one-quarter of Western Europe’s’ to one-third by 2017.”

Basiliere says “the hype around consumer 3D printing has made enterprises aware that the price point and functionality of 3DP has changed significantly over the last five years, driving increased shipments beginning in 2014."

According to Basiliere, most businesses are only now beginning to fully comprehend all of the ways in which a 3DP can be cost-effectively used in their organisations, “from prototyping and product development to fixtures and molds that are used to manufacture or assemble an item to drive finished goods.

“Now that many people in the organisation, not only the engineering and manufacturing department managers but also senior corporate management, marketing management and others, have heard the hype, they want to know when the business will have a 3D printer."

And, Gartner says that 3D printer prices will decrease during the next several years due to competitive pressures and higher shipment volumes, even after allowing for providers who will be offering devices with higher performance, functionality and quality that enable them to hold the line on pricing.

The analyst firm also says it expects that by 2015, seven of the 50 largest multinational retailers will sell 3D printers through their physical and online stores.


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).