3D Printing Industry Shows Promising Growth Heading into 2017
3D printing has experienced a boom of sorts in the last few years, and with any boom comes a group of naysayers predicting its demise. In June, Newsweek published a piece hypothesizing that the industry had peaked in 2014 and was on a steady decline. But after more than 30 years in business, it seems the 3D printing industry is just getting started.
Though the first 3D printing patent was unsuccessfully filed in 1980, the first machine on record was that of Charles Hull in 1983. He received a patent for a stereolithography apparatus (SLA) in 1986, and his company, 3D Systems Corporation, released the first commercial model the following year. Since then, the technology has become an innovative resource for various industries as well as a creative problem solver for consumers.
3D Printing Timeline
- 1989: The first SLS patent is issued to Carl Deckard.
- 1992: The first FDM patent is issued to Stratasys, which is the foundation for today’s most popular printers.
- 2000: MCP Technologies introduces SLM technology to the market.
- 2007: 3D Systems creates the first system that costs less than $10,000
- 2009: The first commercially available 3D printers is released.
- 2012: Alternative 3D printing processes are introduced to the entry level of the market.
Home use started to spike in 2011 after MakerBot raised $10 million in a crowdfunding campaign for a new string of products. By 2015, the industry’s total revenue grew to roughly $5.165 billion, and reported trends indicate revenue will continue to grow by as much as $1 billion each year. Part of this revenue comes from more than 278,000 desktop printers as well as new industries that are increasingly relying on 3D printing for everyday needs. Learn more about the History of 3D Printing here.
Where the Growth Is Happening
The industrial design industry has looked to 3D printing more than any other industry, accounting for roughly 10% of 3D printing spend. Primarily, the printing method has been used to improve efficiency in consumer products including beverage-enhancing water bottles and levers. The overall benefits of using 3D printing include a more fluid design process that moves much faster than traditional methods and extreme cost savings.
Architecture 3D printing accounts for the second highest usage rate, with 8.5% of 3D printing’s revenue stemming from this industry. The benefits for architects seem to be endless: faster completion of scale models, better visualizations for clients, and extensive libraries of reusable designs.
So far in 2016, 3D printing’s top priorities revolve around speeding up the product development process, creating custom products and limited runs, improving production flexibility, and buying 3D printers. By 2021, these priorities will remain at the top of the heap, but many companies will start focusing more on purchasing their own printers and subsequently adding more flexibility into their production processes.
Consumer Printing Is An Untapped Resource
Overall revenue isn’t the only indicator of growth within 3D printing. A deeper look at individual trends shows where growth is coming from and proves that it’s just beginning. Consumer printers are the sector that has experienced the most growth with 62 manufacturers selling industrial-grade AM systems in 2015. These systems are valued at more than $5,000, and the number of manufacturers is up compared to just 49 companies that sold AM systems in 2014. Compared to 2011, when the consumer 3D printing boom was taking off, the number of companies selling AM systems has doubled.
The most used printing methods are SLS in the top spot followed by FDM, STL, and PolyJet. But those methods tend to flip flop when diving deeper into specific uses. For example, FDM is the most used technology among desktop printers as it’s the most accessible and adaptable to a home setup; PolyJet remains most popular with industrial printers.
Aside from trends within use or method, there’s a clear pattern as to where 3D printing is really taking off around the world. Based on the sheer number of printing services available, New York takes the number one spot with 553 total services available while Los Angeles and London follow close behind. But growth percentage paints a different picture with New York only showing an increase of 5.5% over the previous year. The city with the highest growth rate is Amsterdam at 11.7% followed by Paris at 8% and Seattle at 7.9%. It’s clear that the cities topping the list of heaviest activity are those that have a healthy concentration of industries that rely on 3D printing in their everyday practices.
Predictions for 2017
As we look ahead to 2017, much of the industry’s growth will likely come from large corporations adapting 3D printing into their manufacturing methods. Companies like Lowe’s and UPS are slowly finding significant uses for 3D printing to improve the way they operate and sell to small businesses. UPS now has several locations that offer 3D printing services where users can print prototypes, customize accessories, craft architectural models, and make their own fixtures. Currently, the services are available at 60 locations across the United States, and the company is planning to keep expanding. Lowe’s is also offering 3D printing services, but in an attempt to one-up UPS, the hardware giant is also selling 3D printers onsite.
Even toy-focused brands like Mattel are joining the 3D printing fray. The company released its first printer, the Thingmaker, in May of this year. That same month, technology giant HP released its first 3D printer, which uses multi jet fusion technology.
Considering that the biggest sector of growth within the industry comes from industrial growth, it seems viable that many companies will follow the lead of UPS and Lowe’s by offering 3D printing services and hardware. 2017 may see the arrival of more companies who offer models geared toward specific industries. Instead of accepting that all printers can work for every industry, they’ll hone in on specific grievances within each one and tailor a new breed of machines to each industry’s needs.
Better yet, the relatively untapped market is the consumer. Though almost 300,000 consumer grade printers were sold last year, the consumer market only accounts for about 11% of 3D printing’s revenue. There are lots of consumers who don’t understand the ease and accessibility of 3D printing and see it as something unattainable. However, thanks to a series of viral videos like the one about a college student who custom printed his own braces for under $60, the masses are slowly starting to understand what 3D printing is and how it can benefit their lives. In 2017, this awareness will continue with more people directly impacted by it and exposed to it. As more printing models and options are introduced to consumers, the veil of complexity hanging over the 3D printing world will slowly be lifted.
The growth of the industry is expected to continue at an exponential rate, and as the new year approaches, it seems that improvement will be equally impacted by consumer and industrial growth. One thing is for sure — 3D printing isn’t a passing fad or a boom; it’s an innovative technology that’s permanently changing manufacturing and everyday life.
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