Global 3D-Printer Market has Hit Half-a-Million Shipments, but Market Struggling Lately
The 3D-printer market is without a doubt humming along nicely, with U.K.-based IT market-research firm Context recently reporting that global 3D-printer shipments have surpassed 500,000 unit shipments. According to the firm, more than half-a-million 3D printers have been sold worldwide since sales began in earnest in the late 1980s, and a considerable proportion of those 3D printers have been shipped in the last years, thanks to the advent of the sub-$5,000 desktop/personal 3D printer. While the growth in recent years has been phenomenal, Context however says that 2015 has been a difficult year, and that both the industrial/professional 3D-printer segment and the personal/desktop 3D-printer segment were weak in the third quarter of 2015, making this a prime market for new entrants.
According to Context, before 2007, the personal/desktop 3D-printer market consisted almost solely of professional and industrial printers carrying a weighted average selling price in excess of $100,000+. At this time, however, the process – and therefore the market – was referred to as rapid prototyping, or additive manufacturing.
Since then, patents have expired, allowing the development of compact low-cost 3D printers which are typically priced below $3,500 and have generated a new market segment, the personal/desktop 3D-printer segment. This personal/desktop 3D-printer segment, together with the traditional industrial/professional additive manufacturing segment, has collectively become known as the 3D-printing market. Almost 85 percent of the half-a-million 3D printers shipped to date are of this newer variety (personal 3D printers) that currently have a global weighted average sellling price of $1,451.
While hitting this important benchmark of 500,000 units, Context notes that the market has struggled as of late. While this was initially just on the industrial/professional side, as of third-quarter 2015, there’s been a softness in the desktop/personal 3D-printer market as well. Nonetheless, Context says the market is on track to ship its millionth unit by 2017 and upwards of 1 million units per year by 2019. However, reaching these new milestones will depend on the aid of new market entrants.
Difficult Quarter for Stratasys and 3D Systems
Third-quarter 2015 saw long-time industry players Stratasys and 3D Systems continue to struggle. The former again laid off employees from its desktop/personal 3D-printer division, MakerBot, and the latter parted ways with its long-time CEO and president. Both companies posted weak earnings in the quarter, showing declines in total revenues of -18 percent and -9 percent respectively.
But, as anticipated, various players from the 2D-printing market continue to move closer to full entrance into the market. Canon recently showcased an industrial/professional 3D printer that will be available under the Canon brand at an undetermined date. While Canon is still dipping its toe in the water, rival Ricoh has entered the market in earnest, introducing an industrial SLS machine co-developed with its fellow Japanese company (and long-time industry player) ASPECT. As Hewlett-Packard has split into HP Inc. and HP Enterprise, HP Inc. is using 3D printing as a showcase piece for the new company, and there are indications that HP’s MultiJet Fusion (MJF) technology will be brought to the professional market in late 2016. HP is also continuing to promote a desktop/personal 3D printer alongside its consumer SPROUT PC to showcase its 3D-scanning capabilities, and the two are reportedly often purchased together via HP.com.
According to Context, studies indicate that, while it was once thought that by now sub-$5,000 3D printers would be aimed at general consumers, most desktop/personal 3D printers are sold B2B and to educational institutions. Major 2D-printing companies other than HP (by way of their bundle) have yet to enter this lower-end space. Sales in this segment from established industry players Stratasys and 3D Systems have not reached their lofty expectations, but the market continues to grow significantly because of new entrants to the market.