Gartner has indicated that business and medical use of 3D printing will happen well ahead of consumer adoption as mainstream use could be up to 10 years away.
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"Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption," advised Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner. "Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 startups worldwide are developing and selling consumer-oriented 3D printers, priced from just a few hundred dollars.”
“However, even this price is too high for mainstream consumers at this time, despite broad awareness of the technology and considerable media interest,” continued Basilere.
Gartner said that research across sectors - including technology providers, end users, government agencies, educational institutions and investment firms - had identified two themes.
Firstly, the enterprise 3D printing market is very different to potential consumer use. While organisations are investigating consumer devices for potential benefits with minimal risk to capital investment, the two markets are fundamentally unique.
The second theme highlighted that 3D printing was note one technology but seven different ones.
"Hype around home use obfuscates the reality that 3D printing involves a complex ecosystem of software, hardware and materials whose use is not as simple to use as 'hitting print' on a paper printer," explained Basiliere.
“The seven different technologies each have pros and cons, and printers work with varying build sizes and materials,” he went on. “This means organizations must begin with the end products in mind: First, determine the material, performance and quality requirements of the finished items ; second, determine the best 3D printing technology; and third, select the right 3D printer."
The applications for 3D printing are evolving rapidly in response to hype, greater visibility and demand, with some technologies developing and stabilising faster than others; of course, some, such as prototyping are already in general use.
"3D prototyping enables organizations to reduce or mitigate the risks associated with the design, form and functionality of products in research and development programs,” said Basilere. “It may also be used to support new manufacturing processes, and can reduce new product development schedules.”
Basilere predicts that in two to five years, there will be greater adoption of enterprise 3D printing;
"At around this time, 3D printing of medical devices will offer exciting, life-altering benefits that will result in global use of 3D printing technology for prosthetics and implants,"
However macro 3D printing of large structures and classroom 3D printing are more than 10 years away from mainstream adoption. The work on macro 3D printing is still in its infancy despite showing great potential and classroom use is always going to be hampered by the expense and training requirements with a large umber of current technologies still being implemented in schools.