3D Printer Shipments To Double Each Year Through 2018

Global shipments of 3D printers (3DP) will more than double next year to reach 217,350 units, according to a new forecast from market research firm Gartner.

That doubling will occur each year through 2018, according to the company, when it projects sales of the devices to top 2.3 million shipments.

"As we noted last year, the 3D printer market is at an inflection point," said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner, in a prepared statement. "Unit shipment growth rates for 3D printers, which languished in the low single and double digits per year throughout the 30 years since the first 3D printers were invented, are poised to increase dramatically beginning in 2015. As radical as the forecast numbers may seem, bear in mind that even the 2.3 million shipments that we forecast will be sold in 2018 are a small fraction of the total potential market of consumers, businesses and government organizations worldwide."

The bulk of the growth will come from consumer adoption of material extrusion printers costing less than $1,000, with extruder printers expected to grow from $789 million next year to $6.9 billion in 2018 while the market as a whole will increase from $1.6 billion in 2015 to about $13.4 billion at the end of the forecast period.

"Manufacturers will strive to add features and improve performance in the first few years rather than reduce the prices of printers," said Basiliere. "Therefore, the average selling prices (ASPs) of a few technologies are expected to increase or to gradually decrease in the outer years after an increase in 2014 or 2015. Directed-energy deposition printers are the most highly priced, followed by powder bed fusion printers. The ASPs of material extrusion and vat photopolymerization printers are expected to decrease as more and more players enter the market with offerings in the lower price bands within these two technologies." 

Consumer adoption of the devices will be driven by price, improved performance and wider availability, while enterprise adoption will be furthered by "the viability of 3D printing technologies for prototyping and manufacturing coupled with lower 3D printer costs, improved quality and a wider range of materials," according to Gartner.

"The high material extrusion shipment growth numbers are basically driving the 3D printer forecast," added Basiliere. "New providers are entering the market, sometimes directly, sometimes through crowdfunding campaigns, on what seems like a daily basis. These providers are leveraging the expiration of early extrusion technology patents to make low-cost, low-priced devices targeted mainly at consumers."

Another factor the company said will spur growth beginning in 2015 is the adoption of plug and print capability, with 10 percent of sub-$1,000 3D printers expected to boast the technology by 2016. Plug and print capability includes "features such as locked-in materials, often available only in vendor-specific cartridges as with 2D printers, [that] maximize the likelihood the materials will work well," according to Gartner. "Automated bed leveling and heated build chambers also facilitate simpler set-up and operation, making it easier for the consumer to 'hit print' and successfully produce a 3D item."

"This trend will accelerate as the market consisting primarily of early adopters who grew up with an open-source approach without lock-ins evolves into a market in which average consumers dominate," concluded Basiliere. "While the early adopters will rage at the perversion of the 3D printer open-source ethos, the vast majority of mainstream consumers will demand the simple and consistent operation that 'plug and print' can provide them."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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