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Friday, April 25, 2014

Exploring the Mainstream Applications for 3D Printers

Three-dimensional (3D) printers, with the ability to print a variety of objects, have evolved significantly over the past few years and are currently re-shaping the future for industrial and consumer applications.

With the ability to print solid objects ranging from high-end mechanical devices to a variety of children's toys, consumer 3D printing has gained early adoption among the do-it-yourself and hobbyist communities.

Findings from the latest market study by Juniper Research reveal that sales of consumer-grade 3D printers will exceed 1 million units by 2018, rising from just over an estimated 44,000 this year.

While shipments of 3D printers are at relatively low levels, representing a limited opportunity in the medium term, Juniper expects them to increase significantly beyond the five-year period.

This will be a result of an ever widening scope of application scenarios, driven by the entry and growth of the more established printing vendors. This, in turn ,will likely be coupled with a more attractive pricing proposition for consumers.


The Expansion of 3D Printing Use Cases

The study findings also note that it is still very early days for the consumer offering, and the current 3D printer technology has yet to really capture the mainstream consumer imagination.

Compelling applications with the appropriate eco-system of software, apps and materials have yet to be identified and communicated.

Moreover, the established printing vendors have also yet to share their market development strategy, but niche and novelty applications are on the increase. For instance, companies such as Hasbro and Hersheys are working with 3D printing vendors to develop unique applications for consumer use.

Long-term Market Opportunity for 3D Printers

The market study also observed that with the growing technological awareness among consumers, it is now much easier to generate interest, and possibly hype, for new 3D printers and their applications. This however, does not always translate into shipped products.

"Educating and motivating the public on the idea of 3D printing, to create everyday objects is critical for the long-term success of this segment. Killer applications and content will be the key drivers -- something unique and personalized, which is not available in stores already," said Nitin Bhas, senior analyst at Juniper Research.