Where is the 3D printing market headed?
I was recently interviewed by, ‘Women in 3D Printing’, founder Nora Toure and as well as asking me questions about how I got into 3D printing in the first place she asked me about what I thought of 3D Printing today and where it is all going.
Over the past 5 years we have been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride during which we have seen 3D printing hit the heights of the hype and the depths of disillusionment. There was a time when if the printer did not fit on a desktop and extruded plastic then it just was not relevant. Industry analysts were bullish on the adoption of the technology; we were fed a future with a 3D printer in every home and major retailers began selling them online and in stores.
Fast forward to today and we see the industry swing in completely the opposite direction – if it’s not 3D printing for production and direct manufacturing then the analysts, investment community and media are not as interested! If it is not 3D printing a part of a jet engine, then it’s not worthy! It would seem that the prototyping market is now the poor relation in the industry despite the fact that it is growing at a CAGR of 29% and to a predicted value of $12 billion by 2020 according to Wohlers.
The importance of prototyping to the product development cycle cannot be overstated, and 3D printing right now presents an invaluable tool for speeding the time to market. In fact, the greatest ROI is still in the beginning phases of product development with prototypes increasing time to market. It may not be the sexiest application out there, but it is the foundational cornerstone of the AM industry.
However, there will be continued improvements in printers focused on prototyping. The quality and capability of these printers will step up their offering in terms of speed, material, reliability and colour capability. We may also see potential convergence of technologies which would offer a ‘one stop shop’ solution.
As manufacturers, we are all responsible for shaping the future and reaching the ultimate goals for this industry. Adoption of AM technology for manufacturing is a long-term goal and will be driven by product lifecycle and this can vary industry to industry – 3 years, 5 years, 10 years or more. For example, in the automotive industry it won’t be a case of printing an entire car right away, it may start with an area like tooling and will expand from there once AM has proved itself so to speak.
The hardware is one thing but for additive manufacturing to succeed, all elements of the ecosystem must work together including software and materials. We are starting to see this happen particularly on the software side as software is becoming more optimised for additive processes.
Clearly, the future is bright for 3D printing in the industrial space. Suffice to say 3D printing car parts in the future for example, will be as easy and fast as printing on your 2D printer, saving time in development and millions of dollars. But for now we need to get more focused on what we can do now and the rest will come. There is plenty of scope for development right across the board in 3D printing – from transforming design processes to fully utilising functional prototypes.
And at Mcor we are very focused on innovation and the next technologies we will bring to the industry in the future – innovation that will cross into end-use parts and beyond. It is exciting times in 3D printing and we look forward to being a part of it.