July 1, 2015 | By Kira

When it comes to 3D printing, the headlines we most often see relate to groundbreaking discoveries or larger-than-life projects led by industry heavyweights. However, what’s going on at ground level with desktop 3D printers is just as, if not more important in terms of how this open-source, community-driven industry will develop in the coming years. In order to find out more about their audience and get to the heart of what they really want, Ultimaker’s YouMagine conducted their own desktop 3D printing survey.

The results of the three-part survey have been published and transformed into excellent infographics by designer and illustrator Alex Butakov. Overall, the findings are interesting, though not altogether shocking. You might say that what they reveal is the more practical or ‘unglamorous’ side of 3D printing, but that’s not to say they should be ignored. If anything, the strongest point of this kind of survey, which reached out to a whopping 501 community members, is that it shows very clearly what needs to be done to improve user experience and productivity, and to make 3D printing a more accessible and reliable tool for our everyday lives.

Part one focused more specifically on the YouMagine community, since one of the main goals of the survey was to find out how they could improve their website and make it better suited to the needs of their audience. First off, they started by finding out who their audience even is. Not surprisingly, both Google Analytics and the survey results revealed that the USA has the highest number of YouMagine community members, while Germany, the Netherlands and the UK filled out the top four. In terms of website improvements, the biggest point of improvement was clearly their search function and navigation.  YouMagine community manager Joris Peels, as well as the whole YouMagine team, says they are already hard at work on a site redesign to incorporate as many received suggestions as possible.

Parts two and three of the survey turned to the desktop 3D printing industry more generally, and this is where things get interesting. As the graphic above shows, the number one issue that needs to be improved to make 3D printing easier and more accessible is reliability—which, Peels specifies, encompasses machines as well as software, electronics, and materials, all of which need to be coordinated and work together. Other key issues, listed in order of importance to the respondents, included speed, ease of use, larger build volume, and others. Cost and easier slicing and fixing, however, were quite low on the list.

Next up, YouMagine went for the big-picture question and asked its community just how often they use their 3D printers. As the graphics above show, on average, members 3D print 21 things per month—that’s a pretty high number when you stop to think about it. Going deeper, they found that 34% of respondents use their 3D printer every single day and 50% use it at least four times a week. As Peels writes, “these usage numbers are encouraging and mean that for this group the 3D printer is not a toy, but rather a tool that they use continually.”

That observation is backed up by a follow-up infographic, which shows that members’ favorite category of things to make is household items, followed closely by 3D printers and 3D printer parts. So, while there are a great deal of stories about innovations in 3D printed robots, fashion, art and prosthetics, the majority of makers are more concerned with making “practical things that solve real world problems.”

When it comes to the best 3D printing materials supplier, the results were much less encouraging. Over 33% of the sample answered that they have not yet found a reliable supplier, and 30% entered a name of a vendor that was unique. “The 3D printing materials market is therefore very fragmented,” writes Peels.

Other findings include that 58% of respondents use Ultimaker’s open-source slicing software, Cura, and 23% use Slic3r, which is also open source. Another more specific infographic shows some of the issues surrounding warping and bed adhesion. When asked what they used for bed adhesion, respondents’ answers ranged from glue sticks to hairspray to acetone, with no clear winner.  “Rather than be a solved issue for many we can see people looking at many different strategies to make materials adhere to beds,” wrote Peels. “Over the past few years a lot of new types of materials have become available for desktop 3D printers. These have exacerbated this problem especially since the best bed adhesion solution differs per material.”

One of the biggest revelations of this survey is that the majority of makers, 3D printers are becoming a daily addition to their lives, not merely as a novelty, but as a practical, day-to-day tool. In light of this, 3D printer and materials manufacturers need to step up their games in terms of reliability, larger print sizes, increased speeds, and a few high-quality vendors. While YouMagine was quick to point out that their survey is not without its flaws—for example, the sample skewed towards more experienced 3D printer operators who are predisposed to caring about the subject, and might also include more Ultimaker users than the population at large—it is nevertheless an important step in understanding and improving the bottom-up side of the 3D printing industry. Now, it’s up to manufacturers, vendors, online communities such as YouMagine, and 3D printer operators themselves, to continue gathering this kind of information, and to put their findings to good use.



Posted in 3D Printers



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