3D printing: Mainstream adoption in 2014?

3D printing: Mainstream adoption in 2014?

Summary: My take is that 3D printing is a key industry to watch for 2014 in enterprise technology, but you'll have to beware of the hype. Will HP gobble up the smaller players leading the 3D printer charge today?


Enthusiasm for 3D printing abounds and 2014 could be the year when high hopes turn into reality---especially in the supply chain.

Data points about the 3D printing market were piling up in December and multiple analysts are optimistic. The main themes go like this:

  • Consumer 3D printing will get headlines, but will take years to develop.
  • The real action for now is in prototyping in industrial and enterprise applications. Companies will increasingly use 3D printing to iterate on product designs.
  • In the long run, mass manufacturing will be a big market for 3D printing for complex parts and short production runs.
  • Growth rates will be strong through 2017, according to IDC.
  • Those growth rates are going to attract a bevy of companies and naturally there will be a shakeout. HP and Konica Minolta are expected to enter the 3D printing market in 2014, said IDC.
  • Overall, the 3D printer market will see a compound annual revenue growth rate of 29 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to IDC.

The vendor landscape for 3D printing is going to be crowded. IDC has profiled 25 and Jefferies analyst Peter Misek initiated coverage of the 3D printing market and outlined a host of companies.

Misek's takeaways on the 3D printing market went like this:

  1. The consumer market is mostly hype and Misek said "the dreamland scenario of being able to print anything you want at home is unrealistic."
  2. Prototyping is promising and "we believe it is expanding into many enterprise verticals where creative professionals are using 3D printers to rapidly iterate their design ideas." Misek added that printers and software will improve to the point where many enterprises adopt 3D printing for prototyping.
  3. Mass manufacturing is a big market in the next five years, but probably won't take off in 2014.

Misek said Stratasys and 3D Systems will be major players in prototyping and ExOne is a smaller company that may do well in mass manufacturing.

Here's a look at how companies are using 3D printing in manufacturing and prototyping.

3Dprinting uses

My take is that 3D printing is a key industry to watch for 2014 in enterprise technology, but you'll have to beware of the hype. Misek said that costs are too high in the 3D printing market, China companies could blow up the price curve as patents expire and orders are going to be lumpy for early movers.

The biggest question is whether HP will make a big play for 3D printing. It's highly likely that HP will swoop in and acquire many of the companies blazing a path today.

Topics: Hardware, Emerging Tech, Printers

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  • thoughts

    "the dreamland scenario of being able to print anything you want at home is unrealistic."

    I'd agree with him. There are many different construction techniques, many at different temperatures and pressures, which give certain characteristics to the material. Forging and die casting some to mind. Also, there are textiles - I don't think a 3D printer will be able to create woven cloth any time soon, either.

    I also can't think of any way to create anything living with such a printer, so don't expect a new family pet out of it.

    And being that it takes tremendous pressure to produce even artificially, I'd venture to say that diamonds are impossible to 3D print.

    And no matter what the item you need printed, you'll need the proper materials as well. So you really have to know ahead of time what you'll want to print, if you want something printed with an odd material. For the most part, I'll venture to say that most people will just be printing plastic.

    So yes - there are limits to 3D printing. I don't expect it to be the cure-all manufacturing solution.
    • Reply

      Just google for many highebd 3D printers, mostly used by companies. You'll suprised, it even gives you ability to use new technics in production. Like 1 piece pf metal in airplane can have 2 different characteristic, even though it's one piece. Etc. it's a new horizon.
  • I would mostly agree...

    As for living things... it is being worked on. Already living cells have been printed into a substrate for lab use. As well as printing scaffolding supports for organs.

    As for printing fabrics... that depends on the definition of "fabric". Some already include mylar as the "fabric".

    Printing of some things that used to take casting (rocket engines) have already shown to be workable.

    The major future will be in printing circuits for electronic devices. These will be able to make use of new substrates - some that could never be used before (such as rayon) due to the problems of melting, and sensitivity to the etching process... With suitable print heads (likely laser driven) to deposit various metals, semiconductors could be built up.
    • Citation needed.

      "Already living cells have been printed into a substrate for lab use."


      I'd like to know how the "printing" (if it's even real 3D printing) was done - how do you piece together molecules with a 3D printer?

      Or are you talking about "printing" not by assembling the cells from molecules, but rather groups of cells from individual cells?

      I'd still wager it's extremely limited.

      "As for printing fabrics... that depends on the definition of 'fabric'."

      Woven cloth; probably tricky to do because of the overlapping fibers.

      "The major future will be in printing circuits for electronic devices."

      Although there's some pretty major competition - photolithography can currently make components insanely small, and it may take a while for 3D printing to catch up - if it's even a viable technology at such a scale.
      • Google it! 3D organs and tissue already exist.

        Just google it. Living organs and tissues have already been 3D printed and used on people. I've seen video of a living heart working that was printed on one, and a little girl was given a 3D printed trachea and it saved her life.
  • Missing the point

    Consumer 3D printers aren't capable of producing production standard components in any material yet, as far as I'm aware. This is because of the way the layers are laid down on FDM type machines which means there will always be ugly steps in the finish of the item and these steps cause weaknesses in the components (shear planes). 2014 may bring consumer orientated solutions to these problems to make 3d printed components better, but they will still not be perfect.
    • Re:

      Are you kidding? Just google for high-end ones, already being pushed by companies to make parts that were imposible before (and with lower cost). And the most important part for reqular people us tgat impowers people, give them an ability to produce things. Google more for small businesses that are already going 3D. And it's not about perfection, stop thinking in such a childish way. It's about making better, I'm so sick of pessimists, haters.
  • Not Yet, But...

    2014 for 3D printing, with Makerbot and other toys, is the same taste of the future as 1990 (or whatever, year not going to check) was for VR gaming with Nintendo's offering. When that fizzled, people said VR is dead, not 'wow, in 2014 this will become {insert specs for Oculus Rift Consumer Edition here}' and change the world.

    Being thirty seven years old, it may take until 2038, but I'm fairly sure I'll be printing everything from tonight's dinner to a replacement motherboard to !od knows what as casually as I print out a photo-portrait today (which, in 1983, was a sci-fi dream compared to the results I got from my 7th Christmas present of a COLOR okidata dot-matrix printer for my Vic-20.

    2014 isn't the year where 3D printing becomes serious, serious technology of the most disruptive sort. But writing it off as a joke? Have a peek at 3d commercial printers sintering titanium hip replacements and turbine fan blades on demand, and other - blurred - looks at the future, and think about the possibilities to come. Go Makerbot! (Not that I will buy one, should have asked for the Star Wars Mega Collection, that Okidata Color Printer was dumb.)
    Michael Stashuk