According to a new survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) of 100 top manufacturers, two-thirds are now using 3D printing for rapid prototyping and production. The study found that a majority of companies are currently experimenting how to apply the technology to their production processes or using it only for rapid prototyping.
Only one-third of the companies surveyed revealed that they are not implementing 3D printing in any way. As 3D printing techniques evolve to accommodate multiple materials and quicker processes, implementations will transcend beyond today’s predominant use case of rapid prototyping.
The PwC survey discovered that nearly 30% said they were experimenting with the technology, while 25% said they were using it for prototyping only, 10% said they were using it for both prototyping and production, 3% said they were building products that couldn’t be made with traditional methods and 1% were using it for final products or components.
As previously reported on Bits & Pieces, the global market for 3D printers and services is expected to grow from $2.5 billion in 2013 to $16.2 billion in 2018, representing an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.7% from 2013 to 2018.
The sale of 3D printers alone will be worth $3.2 billion, while an additional $2 billion in revenue is projected to come from thermo polymers and other formulated materials used for printing. As Lux Research indicates, the lion’s share of the market — $7 billion — will come from the value of the products produced by 3D printers.
“Despite these trends, the 3D printing industry faces challenges,” the PwC report said. “Rapid prototyping will remain important but is not the game-changer that will expand the technology into high-volume use cases. The industry should pivot to printing more fully functional and finished products or components in volumes that greatly outnumber the volumes of prototypes produced.”
PwC pointed out several technology trends that will expedite 3D printing’s adoption, including an emerging class of mid-level 3D printers that offer features traditionally seen only in higher-end systems. The firm went on to note, “Technology for 3D printing will advance through loosely coordinated development in three areas: printers and printing methods, software to design and print, and materials used in printing.”
“Printer speeds are increasing across the product spectrum; at least one high-end system under development could print up to 500 times faster than today’s top machines. And key patents are about to expire, a development likely to hasten the pace of innovation.”
Despite these trends, the 3D printing industry will still encounter a number challenges. While rapid prototyping will remain important, it likely won’t be the game-changer that will expand the technology into high-volume use cases. The industry should pivot to printing more fully functional and finished products or components in volumes that greatly outnumber the volumes of prototypes produced. For example, PwC mentioned some makers of hearing aids and dental braces have already adopted the next-gen technology for finished products.
Additionally, PwC notes that 3D printing should supplement or supplant products and components manufactured traditionally and create items that can be manufactured in no other way.
“Today’s 3D printers are concentrated at two ends of a spectrum: high cost–high capability and low cost–low capability.” PwC explains that while high-end printers are generally targeted at enterprises and 3D printing service bureaus, low-end printers — such as the SAM3X8E ARM Cortex-M3-powered Ormerod or the megaAVR based MakerBot Replicator — are targeted at consumers, hobbyists and Makers.
PwC concluded its research by demonstrating the versatility of additive manufacturing, particularly bio-inks to form living tissues. Furthermore, the firm believes that the key for market growth and disruptive expansion will be the ongoing development of printers in the middle price range to achieve advances in performance, in multi-material capability, and in printing complete systems.
“The 3D printer market is transforming rapidly. Robust innovation at established vendors and among entrepreneurs and hobbyists is providing a test ground for filling the market with more midrange systems that bring enterprise-class capabilities at much lower prices.”
Those interested in accessing the entire PwC report, “The Road Ahead for 3D Printers,” can find it here. Otherwise, feel free to browse through some of the recent developments throughout the 3D printing world in the Bits & Pieces archives.