Sep 14, 2014 |By Alec

At the 3D Printshow, which was held in the Old Billingsgate in London between 4 and 6 September, IB Times UK caught up with Andy Middleton of Stratasys for a particularly interesting interview. Middleton is the Senior Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Stratasys, one of the largest manufacturer of 3D printing equipment and materials in the world.

He shared some very interesting perspectives on what's going to happen in the 3D printing industry in the near future, and how incredibly fast it has changed the past four or five years. As he told the interview, 'if we turned the clock back just five years, its moved from the best kept secret in the industry, to a huge sense of awareness and hype, partially hype around it. What can 3D printing do and what can't it do?'

Middleton expects that there will be 3 major growth sectors in the industry over the next ,say, 10 years or so: The consumer sector, the rapid prototyping sector, and the additive manufacturing sector. He expects the consumer sector, ' which is already a 300, 400 million dollar business' will start to grow by some 30, 40 or maybe 50 percent per year. The rapid prototyping phase in 3D printing, where printers are utilized to make prototypes of products, is also set to grow, though this already accounts for about 80% of current customers.

However, it's the additive manufacturing sector – where actual end-user parts or end-user products are being printed rather than prototypes – that is set to be the real future of 3D printing. As he speculated:

"This is where we will be seeing the major growth in the coming years. I think that in the next ten years we will seeing the factories of the future, where you will see production lines of 3D printin manufacturing 365 days a year, 7 days a week. We will see factories producing end user parts and products in various locations around certain geography. Distributed manufactory, instead of centralized manufacturing and distribution, we will have centralized product development, and distributed manufacturing. This is definitely something we will see."

He moreover expects a growth in the number of 'prosumers', the professional consumers because of knowledge skills, or level or interest, which virtually all consumers currently are. Regular consumers are still something of the future:

"I don't mean to mislead the Makerbot business. 70 percent of their sales go into companies, not into consumers. They go into industry, same customers as ours. Even the small ones. For initial product design verification. Its fast, cheap and gives an initial look and feel. And then, for further developed prototypes, it goes into a more high quality system, like some of our Stratasys products. "

Expansion of the number of average consumers is something that will take a lot longer, and that is one of the big questions for the future of 3D printing.

"It's not going to be as fast as many people think. Rather, I think we'll see a lot more service bureaus opening up in towns where consumers can take the files from the web, change it, modify it, and then send it down the road to be printed. I think that is what's going to happen It'll be much like the copy shops of yesteryear, but they'll be 3D print shops."

Over the next five years, Middleton therefore expects just a moderate growth in the number of consumers, though everything looks set to really take off over the next 10 years. ' What's going to drive it? Ease of use of product design software. If you and I can simply design or modify a 3D design, then it's going to take off. That's going to really help the industry flourish.'

Check out Middleton's interview with IB Times UK here:


Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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