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3D printing market becoming more of a mainstream proposition

Although growth has taken a knock this year the 3D printing market is still heading towards becoming a mainstream proposition

Growth in the 3D printing market might have slowed this year but the technology continues to rack up the milestones and is getting closer to becoming a more serious proposition for the channel.

Various distributors have already signed up 3D printer vendors and some of the household names in the world of traditional print have also indicated they are going to be more aggressive about pushing their own products.

Key amongst those is HP Inc, which is viewing printing, including high-end 3D technology, as an area that it can gain growth. In addition Canon and Ricoh have also indicated that they will be more visible in this sector.

Context analyst Chris Connery has been keeping an eye on the 3D printer space over the last decade and has reported that the market has now gone past the 500,000 unit milestone and remains on track to get to the 1m barrier by 2017.

That growth should continue over the next three years as the market continues a steady climb, fuelled largely by what is happening at the low-end in the desktop space.

The balance of the market as things stand at the end of Q3 is that 85% of units are low-cost desktop models and the remaining 15% from the large commercial 3D printers that often have a price tag with a digit accompanied by five to six zeros.

The average price of a desktop model is now $1,451 and in the professional sector the sale can be expected to be in the region of $96,000.

"Growth in 3D printing has been phenomenal in recent years," said Connery, vp for global analysis at Context. "This year has been challenging especially in the long standing Industrial/Professional market. Through the first half of this year, there have been 1% fewer printers shipped in this high-end sector than in the first half of last year, a stark contrast to the shipment growth of 29% seen from 2013 to 2014."

"Even the fast growing Personal/Desktop 3D Printing sector, which saw phenomenal 61% year-on-year growth in the first half of this year, is showing some weakness with preliminary indications highlighting that Q3'15 shipments might be below those of Q3'14," added Connery.

The market leaders Stratasys and 3D Systems both saw their financial results falter as a result of the slowdown with both players having to report decreases in revenue in their most recent numbers, with drops of 18% and 9% respectively.

Earlier this month Ricoh announced plans to launch the AM S5500P, the first 3D printer under its own brand, as it evolved from a policy of using third party products.

“As a company committed to innovation and supporting businesses as they evolve throughout the digital age, we are excited to bring a fresh approach and introduce a powerful new product with comprehensive end-to-end services," said Peter Williams, executive vice president, Ricoh Europe.

HP's introduction to the market is not expected until the back end of next year. At this point most of the other household names work in partnership with an existing 3D printer manufacturer and have yet to embark on manufacturing their own hardware.

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We once farmed out big printing jobs. Then better printers arrived and we took most of that business back in-house. Now that we can build 3D chachkas on the office machine, we still farm out bigger projects.

Day by day the materials become more interesting, the process grows better, the results finer, the time shorter. Is there really any question that 3D printing is heading mainstream. Chefs are printing food, architects are printing models, machinists are building working machines. And my wife thought it would be fun to print out new plates for her dinner party.... It don't get more mainstream than that. 

We're not near mimicking Star Trek's replicator, but we keep nudging closer. 
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As technologies become better understood, and their purposes more aligned with everyday users (read, they are affordable enough and fast enough to be useful) then yes, there will be more and more reasons for every day people to want to invest in 3D printing technology. For many, though, there still needs to be that sense of need, an "itch" the 3D printing options can scratch. For many hobbyists, just the fact it can be done is sufficient, bot for many others it will take a very specific focus to take off. Maybe the next generation of model enthusiasts will be the ones to make it happen, especially if the systems can download and form entire kits.
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