Imagining the day where you’ll casually download some designs online, pop over to your 3D printer and bash out some body parts, a pair of replica Google Glass or perhaps even your very own handgun? You’re not alone — 3D printing is one of the biggest technology trends at the moment, and it’s only going to keep growing in both adoption rates and mainstream consciousness.
In fact, according to the latest report from research house Gartner, global shipments of 3D printers (the sub-US$100 000 kind) will almost double, growing by 49% this year, and are expected to increase 75% year on year going into 2014. Still, the printers are still a niche product and they’re not exactly going to become a everyday practice as yet, with just 56 507 units expected to be shipped in 2013.
Although the rise of crowdfunded prototypes like the US$100 Peachy Printer and the success of manufacturers like Makerbot are helping to make 3D printing more of an option for consumers and general hobbyists, Gartner predicts that it’s the enterprise market that will drive a lot of the growth. It expects enterprise spending on 3D printers to add up to more than US$325-million this year, while the consumer segment will bring in a lesser US$87-million. In 2014, it predicts that total spending will increase 62%, reaching US$669-million, with enterprise spending of US$536-million and consumer spending of US$133-million.
This is mainly due to the value of 3D printing for constructing rapid prototypes and test designs for the manufacturing and design industries — not to mention the medical value in quickly producing custom 3D organs and even bones. “As the products rapidly mature, organisations will increasingly exploit 3D printing’s potential in their laboratory, product development and manufacturing operations,” said Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner. “In the next 18 months, we foresee consumers moving from being curious about the technology to finding reasons to justify purchases as price points, applications and functionality become more attractive.”
While getting the materials and machine needed to make your own 3D printed masterpiece is still relatively difficult at this stage, by 2015, Gartner estimates that seven of the 50 largest multinational retailers will sell 3D printers through their physical and online stores. Not only that, but you’ll be able to buy finished 3D printed products too.