Two new studies have been released, both signifying growth for the 3D printing industry. According to Gartner’s latest forecast, worldwide shipments of 3D printers will reach 217,350 units in 2015 — up from 108,151 in 2014. These shipments are expected to more than double every year between now and 2018, by which time units are projected to surpass 2.3 million. As a result, the market once valued at $1.15 billion will rise to an astonishing $4.8 billion in 2019, with consumer demand fueling the charge.
Until now, 3D printing applications have been somewhat confined to the automotive, aerospace and healthcare industries; however, increased levels of consumer and small business (SMB) adoption will surely drive unit sales tenfold from 81,000 in 2013 to nearly 850,000 in 2018, a recent CCS Insight survey has revealed.
CCS Insight noted that while industrial 3D printers will experience steady growth of 30% in 2014, consumer and SMB printer sales will more than double through the year to account for nine out of 10 3D systems sold this year. The report predicted sales to reach 158,000 devices by the end of the year, an increase of 93% from 2013.
“Growth is driven mostly by the education sector [such as] schools and public libraries, while household ownership is mainly limited to individual hobbyists,” CSS Insight writes.
As fellow research firm Gartner points out, seven technologies constitute the 3D printer market, with material extrusion leading the market’s growth through 2018 due to significant worldwide consumer adoption of 3D printers costing less than $1,000. The primary market drivers for consumer-centric printers — similar to those seen throughout the Maker Faire 3D Printing Village — are lower prices, improved performance and expanded global availability; whereas, the key enterprise 3D printer drivers include viability of 3D printing technologies for prototyping and manufacturing coupled with lower 3D printer costs, improved quality and a wider range of materials.
“As we noted last year, the 3D printer market is at an inflection point,” explained Pete Basiliere, Gartner Research Vice President. “Unit shipment growth rates for 3D printers, which languished in the low single and double digits per year throughout the 30 years since the first 3D printers were invented, are poised to increase dramatically beginning in 2015. As radical as the forecast numbers may seem, bear in mind that even the 2.3 million shipments that we forecast will be sold in 2018 are a small fraction of the total potential market of consumers, businesses and government organizations worldwide.”
Arnaud Gagneux, CCS Insight Vice President of Technology Transformation, further validates this uptick of machines by stating that consumers will be persuaded to purchase 3D printers once they see a clear use for them. He added, “To drive mass sales, manufacturers need to change the perception that 3D printers are simply a bit of fun and create sustainable demand beyond just an occasional need.”
CCS Insight points out that North America is currently the largest market for 3D printers, and will remain so for at least the next four years, accounting for just shy of half the industry revenue in 2018.
While Gartner predicts total end-user spending on 3D printers will hit $1.6 billion next year and $13.4 billion by 2018, rival analysts at CCS Insight anticipate that the market will only reach $4.8 billion by 2018. Furthermore, due to increased embracement of the technology within the consumer and enterprise markets, Gartner predicts that end-user spending on material extrusion technology will increase from $789 million in 2015 to around $6.9 billion in 2018.
In the very near future, Gartner believes “plug-and-print” capabilities will drive consumer demand for 3D printers beginning as early as 2015. The firm highlights that “features such as locked-in materials, often available only in vendor-specific cartridges as with 2D printers, maximize the likelihood the materials will work well. Automated bed leveling and heated build chambers also facilitate simpler set-up and operation, making it easier for the consumer to ‘hit print’ and successfully produce a 3D item.”
If this were to come to fruition, 10% of the 3D printers priced under $1,000 will be equipped with this plug-and-print functionality by 2016.
“This trend will accelerate as the market consisting primarily of early adopters who grew up with an open-source approach without lock-ins evolves into a market in which average consumers dominate,” Basiliere concluded. “While the early adopters will rage at the perversion of the 3D printer open-source ethos, the vast majority of mainstream consumers will demand the simple and consistent operation that ‘plug and print’ can provide them.”
Since the earliest days of consumer 3D printers, Atmel’s versatile chips — ranging from AVR XMEGA and megaAVR to SAM3X8E MCUs — have found themselves at the heart of these machines. And well, more units mean more embedding! With printers expected to grow 100% every year through 2018, we can certainly expect to see this trend to continue on!