Gartner: Mainstream Consumer Adoption of 3D Printing is Five Years Away

Makerbot replicator 2According to market-research firm Gartner, consumer adoption of 3D printing is more than five years away, while business and medical 3D-printing applications will have the greatest impact in the next two to five years.

“Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption,” commented 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.”

Based on conversations on 3D printing with organizations ranging from technology providers to 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 Gartner’s 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.”

consumer adoption chartAccording to Gartner, 3D printing and its uses continue to evolve rapidly in response to hype, greater visibility and, more importantly, demand. Naturally, some technologies are maturing faster than others and will be widely available in just a few years. In fact, some are already in general use. An example is 3D printing for prototyping, which has been the mainstay of the 3D printing industry since its inception.

“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,” says Basiliere.

In two to five years, there will be greater adoption of enterprise 3D printing, nurtured in part by the continued acceptance and use of 3D print creation software, 3D scanners and 3D printing service bureaus. “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 Basiliere.

Last, and reflecting different market drivers, macro 3D printing of large structures and classroom 3D printing are more than 10 years away from mainstream adoption, according to Gartner. 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.

More detailed analysis is available Gartner’s report “Hype Cycle for 3D Printing, 2014,” which is available on Gartner’s Web site at http://www.gartner.com/doc/2803426. Gartner analysts will discuss the ways in which 3D printing enables digital business at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2014. The Hype Cycle is part of Gartner’s “Hype Cycles 2014” Special Report, which includes a video in which Betsy Burton, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst, gives more details of this year’s Hype Cycles, as well as links to all the individual Hype Cycle reports. The Special Report can be found at http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/hype-cycles.

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