3D Printing

3D Printer Shipments Up for Education (and Every Other Segment)

3D printing is on a growth jag. A new forecast from International Data Corp. (IDC) projects that the market grew in the United States by nearly 20 percent in 2015 compared to 2014. Printer hardware and materials represented a $2.5 billion market in this country last year. According to the IDC report, "U.S. 3D Printer Forecast, 2016-2020: New 3D Print/Additive Manufacturing Technologies Fuel Growth," that increase is expected to continue through 2020, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 16 percent.

In the education segment specifically, IDC forecasts that 3D printing spending, which includes printers, as well as materials and software, will grow from around $200 million this year to more than $500 million in 2019. "Printers themselves will represent only a small portion of this spend, as material spending is by far the leading cost associated with 3D printing (or any printing, for that matter)," noted IDC Research Vice President Christopher Chute.

In the entire market, shipments in the "very low-end," where the printers sell for below $1,000, are projected to grow at a CAGR exceeding 12 percent through 2020. Most of these printers use the fused filament fabrication (FFF) process, (referred to as fused deposition modeling (FDM) by 3D printing company Stratasys), in which the device extrudes a continuous filament of a thermoplastic material. As IDC reported, these printers "are becoming more useful with the expansion of materials that can be reliably 3D printed."

The research firm also expects "strong growth" of 20 percent or higher in the professional 3D printer segments, which feature multiple kinds of technologies for producing more "accurate and durable" 3D prints, and do so at higher rates of speed. This class of printer made up three-quarters of the total shipments in 2015, IDC said. But by 2020, that share is expected to contract to less than 60 percent of total shipments.

3D printers based on stereolithography (SLA) are expected to go from about 11 percent of total shipments to more than 20 percent by 2020. This type of technology builds up the 3D object by laying down layers of liquid polymer that harden when flashed with a laser.

The highest end of the market is also growing "aggressively." These 3D printers use jetting and sintering or melting technologies for professional-grade prototyping and on-demand parts manufacturing. Customers in this segment are increasing their investments, IDC stated, while new market entries are finding ways to bring the cost of this technology down.

A separate form of 3D printing, select deposition lamination (SDL), introduced by Mcor Technologies, uses paper as the printing material, which is tightly compressed, akin to wood. IDC said SDL is now being repositioned at "a lower price point," which researchers expect will drive higher shipment levels in a "wide range of vertical segments."

Material jetting is also making a strong showing. This technology is like inkjet printing, but instead of dots of ink being sprayed onto paper, the printer jets polymers and plastics onto a build tray from multiple print heads, and a UV  light is used to cure the layers. Stratasys, 3D Systems and HP are all selling some variation on this type of 3D printer.

"People and companies that are adopting 3D printers are routinely realizing tremendous time and cost savings in their product creation and development cycles. As printer speeds increase and the range of materials expands, a growing number of products and parts, and therefore markets, will be impacted by 3D printing/additive manufacturing," said IDC Research Director Tim Greene, in a prepared statement. "Already the 3D printer mix in the U.S. has changed over the last 12 [to] 24 months. While there are still a lot of shipments into the do-it-yourself and consumer market, tremendous growth remains in the segments with a more professional and manufacturing orientation."

About the Author

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