3D Printers

Report: Education Use Driving Low-Cost 3D Printer Purchases

Forget about 3D printers in the home to make that tool or part you need. The primary driver for consumer-grade 3D printers that cost under $2,500 is purchasing done by schools and universities. Overall acquisition of 3D printers is on target to more than double year over year for the next five years. Whereas the total number of 3D printers bought in 2014 was about 107,000 units and the tally was expected to be 245,000 for 2015, the count is projected to go up to 5.7 million units by 2019.

That's the forecast offered by Gartner in a new report published this month. The analyst firm defines 3D printing as "an additive technique that uses a device to create physical objects from digital models." The report identifies seven different printer technologies that constitute the market. "Material extrusion" dominates with some 232,000 printers shipped in 2015 using this technology. Coming in second was stereolithography with 6,093 units shipped over the same period.

Why the rapid growth? The report explained that the Chinese government is making major investments in 3D printing use in schools this year and next. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has put out a "National Additive Manufacturing Industry Promotion Plan 2015-2016," which states that the government intends "to offer comprehensive training to educators and to create courses for 3D printing that will educate its students, beginning with its 400,000 elementary schools."

Elsewhere in the world Gartner sees strong expansion in the number of schools and libraries that are buying 3D printers costing less than $1,000. That, in turn, is driving consumer purchases on the low-cost end.

According to the report, parents who want to give their kids educational support in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) subjects are investing in 3D printers. "The student may be enrolled in a secondary or postsecondary school, taking subjects ranging from architecture to creative arts to mechanical engineering," the authors wrote. "Students will use the 3D printer to complete school projects, much like their parents used plaster of Paris, balsa wood and other materials in their school days."

"The 3D printer market is continuing its transformation from a niche market to broad-based, global market of enterprises and consumers," said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner, in a press release.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.