3D Printing on the Way to Consumer Markets

3D Printing
Mathias Plica, CEO All3DP (c) Bethel Fath
Mathias Plica, CEO of All3DP GmbH (image: Bethel Fath)

Gartner has published its annual review of the 3D printing market. The various use cases of 3D printing technology are shown in the well-known “hype cycle”. Some are still in the beginning stages, while others have already reached product and market maturity. What can we learn from this?

3D printing is used in numerous sectors so that completely different speeds of market maturation are being observed. Here’s an example: According to the Gartner study, it took just two years for the hearing aid market to completely switch over from traditional manufacturing to mass customization of hearing aids using 3D printing. That is extremely fast and shows how quickly tentative markets can turn.

Consumer Printing Is Far Away From Mass Market

Consumer 3D printing, meaning the 3D production with desktop 3D printers at home, say, in the garage or living room, is still a long way from reaching the mass market. And it will certainly take a while until every household has a 3D printer ― if even at all. Is this a problem for consumers? Not at all. There are other ways consumers can get hold of 3D printed objects now and, in fact, much faster.

What do customers without in-depth knowledge and experience in 3D printing really need in order to get 3D printed products at this point? Simple 3D scanning technology, easy-to-use, intuitive 3D software to create 3D models, online marketplaces that offer ready-made 3D models and 3D printing service bureaus that offer on-demand 3D printing services to customers. Gartner sees all of these products and services as already being at the “slope of enlightenment” (see the graph) stage and will therefore reach the “plateau of productivity” in the near future ― that is, in about two to five years.

This is consistent with our experience at All3DP.

Professional Services Will Fill The Gap

Considering the variety of use cases, the abundance of options, it’s almost impossible to review the 3D printing market uniformly. Often, just the lack of knowledge of the solutions already available today is an obstacle to market growth. For example, it is not widely known that a variety of 3D printing materials are available today, everything from biodegradable plastics to ceramics and high-quality special filaments and steel to gold and platinum ― all readily available to those customers who know about this.

The market is growing globally, new applications are emerging in every field. So much is happening so quickly that it’s hard to keep up with the dissemination of the latest information and, as a result, consumer awareness of everything available to them is a somewhat slow process. For this reason, one of the key missions we have set ourselves at All3DP is to provide information on all of the options already available to customers today and to help create transparency in the market.