World demand for 3D printing is projected to rise more than 20 percent per year, ultimately hitting $5 billion in 2017. While professional uses such as design and prototyping will continue to account for the majority of demand, the most rapid growth will be seen in production and consumer applications.
According to a new report published by the Freedonia Group, 3D printers will increasingly be utilized to manufacture direct production parts and finished goods in a wide variety of applications. In the consumer segment, projected price drops in desktop 3D printers (aided by upcoming expiration of patents) will prompt purchases by hobbyists and DIY Makers. Gains will also be driven by growing awareness and interest in 3D printing technologies, while increased adoption of additive production technologies is expected as 3D printing speeds and material quality improves.
In addition, above-average growth is predicted for printing materials, with the rapidly expanding installed base of 3D printers fueling related materials consumption. Plastics such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polylactic acid (PLA) and nylon were the first types of materials used in 3D printing, remaining the simplest to work with. Plastics will continue to account for the majority of materials demand, although faster growth is projected for metals, based on their greater strength and resistance, as well as rapid gains in markets such as aerospace.
Unsurprisingly, some of the fastest growth will be seen in the medical and dental market. Other leading segments for 3D printing products include consumer products (e.g., jewelry, toys, fashion, consumer electronics), automotive and aerospace, with the latter expected to experience above-average growth. In terms of geographic growth, the US will remain by far the largest national 3D printing market in the world – accounting for approximately 42 percent of global sales in 2017. In developed areas such as the US and Western Europe, 3D printing market value will be supported by the growing presence of metal-based 3D printers for the production of finished parts, as such systems are significantly more expensive than plastics-based 3D printing systems.
It is important to emphasize that rapid gains are expected in China, where most applications (especially in large markets such as consumer products manufacturing) center around design, sample testing and prototyping. As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, demand in China will also benefit from significant government funding in academic institutions, science and research centers, as well as manufacturing companies.