Worldwide sales of 3D printers priced below $100,000 are set to grow 49% this year to reach a total of 56,507, according to Gartner, an IT research company. In 2014, the firm reckons sales will increase by a further 75%. At this price range it includes hobby machines, like the MakerBot, and the more expensive desktop printers used in design studios and other businesses. Improvements in quality and performance are helping to drive demand beyond those who are merely curious about the technology, says Pete Basiliere, Gartner’s research director.
Current uses of the machines tend to be for the production of one-off or small-run models for product design and industrial prototyping, jigs and fixtures used in manufacturing processes and mass customisation of finished goods, adds Mr Basiliere. As advances in 3D printers, scanners, design tools and materials reduce the cost and complexity of creating 3D printed items, the applications of 3D print technology will continue to expand to include areas such as architecture, defence, medical products and jewellery design, he thinks.
He goes on: “Simply experiencing the technology and conceiving ways to use it will mainly drive makers and hobbyists, not the average consumer, to purchase a 3D printer to begin with. However, we expect that a compelling consumer application — something that can only be created at home on a 3D printer — will hit the scene by 2016.” What this might be, he does not say. But he expects it would create the “most compelling” case yet for consumer 3D printing.