Oct 2, 2015 | By Alec

The 3D printing community is blooming, as we’ve argued before, and the growing number of available 3D printers definitely reflects an expanding market. However, a new study by Deloitte about the 3D printing market in 2015 shines an interesting new light on the so-called 3D printing revolution. Deloitte concludes that the 2015 3D printing market has grown tremendously (with 220,000 3D printers being sold this year), but says that virtually all of the economic value is in professional grade 3D printing and that 95% of 3D printed objects are made by these high quality 3D printers.

Deloitte, of course, is one of the largest professional services network in the world. Based in New York, they have a particularly good overview of market forces and growth sectors, so their conclusions are not something to be ignored. Overall, they are quite optimistic. The market for 3D printers is doing fantastic, and the 220,000 3D printers sold worldwide over 2015 represents a 100 percent growth over previous years. That is an amazing figure, especially when the collective value of those 3D printing units is taken into account: $1,6 billion.

However, they say, figures clearly indicate that the 3D printing revolution isn’t taking place in homes and garages, but in schools and businesses. Although about 70 percent of 3D printer sales involve private consumers such as you and eye, Deloitte’s Duncan Stewart argues that the real money is in the remaining 30 percent. These professional grade 3D printers we all dream about, will account for about 95 percent of all objects 3D printed, as well as for a crazy 99 percent of all economic value, he argues. The problem is, he argues, that most of the 3D printers sold to consumers are cheap, inefficient and unappealing. ‘Only 10 percent of these printers are plug-and-play, so there is significant effort involved in configuring them,’ Stewart says.

In the meantime, high quality 3D printers are revolutionizing various manufacturing industries through rapid prototyping. ‘Historically, for a car company to make a sample side-view mirror, it takes days and costs thousands of dollars. On a 3D printer, you enter a computer design file, press a button, and the object comes out in a few hours,’ Stewart says. The value is thus in saving money and in speeding up production. ‘It’s all about time to market,’ he says.

Indeed, prototyping and production of parts that can be embedded in existing manufacturing are where the real money is, and will represent about 90% of the objects made by businesses this year. 3D printed marketable objects are thus not where the real revolution is. As several production chokepoints are already being streamlined by 3D printing (making production cycles more cost-effective), the functionality in the enterprising sector is only expected to increase, Deloitte says.

That limited amount of 3D printed end products is largely in thanks to the price tags attached to metal 3D printing, Deloitte says. Metal remains the most functional end material, but very few metal 3D printers are being commercially used; they estimate that less than 1,000 units were in use globally at the end of 2014. That’s largely because they are more expensive and slower than other manufacturing options. Realistic options are thus limited to the creation of parts impossible to make any other way (like very small turbine parts for instance) or in unique situations where no other manufacturing option is around (such as on the International Space Station).

However, there is one silver economic lining as far as consumer 3D printers are concerned, as Deloitte sees a significant future for them in the educational market. We’ve often talked about 3D printers being used in science classes to prepare the future workforce, and that is indeed one of the functions a lot of consumer-level 3D printers will be used for. For more about this interesting report, take a look at their prediction video below.

 

 

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