There's no denying the cool factor that 3D printers have gained over the last few years. This has led to an increase in purchases from hobbyists and other non-industry consumers. That increase is now leading to explosive growth in the industry.
In a report out of Gartner, the tech research company says that worldwide shipments of 3D printers priced under $100,000 will grow by 49 percent in 2013. In other words, 3D printer companies will see 56,507 sub-$100,000 3D printers this year. That number is expected to double by 2015.
"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."
The aforementioned hype is now a serious drive behind consumer purchases of 3D printers. Thanks to increased mainstream coverage, consumers are now more interested in 3D printing than ever before. Of course, sales from the consumer sector will still lag behind that of enterprise purchases, but it's steadily growing as the price of desktop 3D printers continue to drop.
In fact, consumer spending on 3D printers will reach nearly $87 million in 2013 while the enterprise market will spend $325 million on 3D printers. In 2014, consumer spending is expected to reach $133 million while enterprise spending will rise to $536 million.
"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," said Mr. 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 organizations, 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 organization, 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."
Gartner also predicts that seven of the 50 largest multinational retailers will carry 3D printers by 2015. We're already seeing the start of this today with Staples, UPS and Microsoft Stores all carrying 3D printers for consumers and enterprise.
"Major multinational physical and online retailers have the means to market the technology to consumers and enterprise buyers, generating demand for the devices and revenue by selling printers and supplies, as well as from sales of individual 3D-printed pieces," said Mr. Basiliere. "Office superstore Staples is already in the market, and other superstores and consumer goods retailers, such as Yamada Denki, are prime candidates to sell printers and finished 3D printed items. Their presence in the market will have an impact on average selling prices, forcing providers into low-margin sales of consumer 3DP by 2017."
This research is definitely interesting, but it fails to take the explosion of cheap 3D printers hitting Kickstarter and Indiegogo into account. This new avenue of obtaining cheap 3D printers is getting more printers into the hands of consumers than ever before. Hell, we're now at the point where a 3D printer only costs $100. If this trend continues, we may see major manufacturers like MakerBot and 3D Systems lowering their prices to better compete with the independent makers.[Image: makerbot/YouTube]