Aug. 19, 2014

Each year research firm Gartner puts out a Hype Cycle for emerging technologies. And this year 3D printing appears multiple times on the chart. Although the technologies are still five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption, the market for enterprise and consumer 3D printers and 3D printing is still rapidly expanding. However, although consumer 3D printing is at the peak of its hype, Gartner believes that consumer adoption will be outpaced by business and medical applications that have more compelling use cases in the short term.

Source: Gartner, August 2014

"Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption," said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner. "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."

Gartner believes that in two to five years, there will be greater adoption of enterprise 3D printing, as 3D print creation software and 3D scanning technology are maturing faster. " "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," added Mr. Basiliere.

"3D prototyping enables organizations 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 Mr. Basiliere.

Based on its investigation with technology providers, end users, government agencies, educational institutions and investment firms, Gartner has identified two themes.

First, the enterprise 3D printing market is very different from the consumer market. It's true that at this early stage there are some similarities between them as organizations are beginning to employ "consumer" devices in order to learn about 3D printing's potential benefits with minimal risk and capital investment. Fundamentally, however, the two markets are driven by different uses and requirements and must be evaluated separately.


Second, 3D printing is not one technology but seven different ones. "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 Mr. Basiliere. The seven different technologies each have pros and cons, and printers work with varying build sizes and materials. This means organizations must begin with the end products in mind: "First, determine the material, performance and quality requirements of the finished items first; second, determine the best 3D printing technology; and third, select the right 3D printer."

Here is Gartner's 'Hype Cycle' for 3D printing: 

Source: Gartner (July 2014)

According to Gartner's report "Hype Cycle for 3D Printing, 2014," 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.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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TK wrote at 8/19/2014 6:05:02 PM:

Great, now I imagine a family like Simpson's standing on a large grid like floor running from the 3D print head, yelling at it 'put in windows!', while the printer lays down filament for their house... The 3D printer has become their house...

Sum-Ting Wong wrote at 8/19/2014 3:52:47 PM:

Then again, PCs are still not in every home and probably never will be.

michaelc wrote at 8/19/2014 3:28:13 PM:

The first consumer laser printers were $7500 in 1988. You can buy a nice one now with far better speed and image quality for less than $80. When a consumer priced 3d printer can create prints indistinguishable from a conventional manufactured item, they will become just as popular as laser printers.

Craig wrote at 8/19/2014 1:25:24 PM:

It is easy. 3d printers are a "niche" machine. They will not be in every home.

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