According to the latest information from Terry Wohlers, the additive manufacturing (AM) industry is experiencing “staggering growth in low-cost ‘personal’ 3D printers.” These printers sell for less than $3000, with many available in kit form or preassembled. One of the first, the RepRap open-source machine is based on fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology developed and commercialized by Stratasys in the early 1990s.
Professional-grade, industrial additive manufacturing systems, on the other hand, sell for more than $5,000. According to Wohlers report, sales of these systems grew by an estimated 5.4% (CAGR) to 6,494 units in 2011. In 2010, slaes are estimated to have been 6,164 systems sold for an impressive growth of 37.4%.
Personal 3D printer unit sales, however, grew a whopping 289% in 2011, with an astonishing 23,265 units believed to have been placed. Not all of these systems have been assembled and are operating, though. Nevertheless, personal 3D printers represent just $26.1 million of the total market for AM systems sales in 2011. If the personal systems category continues to grow at its current pace, it will quickly become an interesting market segment for system developers and investors.
Noted Wohlers, many have speculated on whether everyday consumers will purchase and use a 3D printer. With some prices dipping to $350 for a kit and $550 for an assembled system, they are affordable. Some believe that a 3D printer will eventually be in every home and used to produce replacement parts as household products break or wear out.
As shown by Shapeways, Materialise, FutureFactories, Ponoko, and others, consumers are definitely interested in products made by additive manufacturing and 3D printing. Shapeways claims to be producing more than 90,000 parts (about 25,000 products) per month by AM, with a high percentage going to consumers. Noted Wohlers, Materialise’s .MGX division has offered striking lighting designs, sculptures, and other products, with consumers paying hundreds of euros for one of them.
So consumers have an appetite for products made by additive manufacturing. But, most consumers will never own or operate a machine to produce these products. Instead, they will go to Shapeways, Amazon, or to another service or storefront to purchase products made from these machines. Most will not know, or even care, how the products were made—no different from the way they now purchase products. Consumers only care about receiving good value, said Wohlers.
Someday, a company will offer a very low-cost, easy-to-use, and safe 3D printer targeted at children. Wohlers believes this market opportunity is large because children like to imagine, create, touch things, play, and entertain themselves. These kids will be producing vehicles, action figures, puzzles, and just about everything imaginable. They are our future designers, engineers, and manufacturing professionals.
Most parents and adults are not candidates for a 3D printer. They do not want to mess with the data, manufacturing process, cleanup, and finishing of parts and products. Even if they owned or had access to a machine, it would probably not be capable of producing parts in the right material with the mechanical properties, color, surface finish, and texture needed for the part(s) they are trying to create or replace. “These types of parts will continue to be produced by industry professionals and that’s why most adults will never use a 3D printer,” said Wohlers.
This market information can be found in Wohlers Report 2012, a 287-page global study focusing on the advances in additive manufacturing and 3D printing worldwide.
Filed Under: 3D printing • additive manufacturing • stereolithography, Make Parts Fast