3D printing: Mainstream adoption in 2014?

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?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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.

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