Recently, we have published a few rather pessimistic articles concerning the current situation in the field of 3D printing and our predictions for the coming years. At the same time a few leading research agencies presented their reports on the development of the 3D printing technology in the market context. Gartner has published the latest installment of their “Gartner’s Hype Cycle concept”, that is a chart depicting the successive cycles of interest and use of new technologies by the various industries, whereas A.T. Kearney presented their calculations regarding the market value of 3D printing. Conclusions? All is well and will be even better, though… not quite in the areas which the ordinary 3D printer users would expect.

Let us start with Gartner. The “Hype Cycle” is a chart divided into five segments, depicting various stages of interest in a given technology. Its particular stages are marked on the line, with a specification when a given state will be achieved: less than 2 years, 2-5 years, 5-10 years and more than 10 years.

The respective segments include:

  • the innovation trigger – the start of a given technology
  • peak of inflated expectations – the moment when ideas and expectations related to the technology reach their highest level
  • trough of disillusionment – the clash of expectations with the limitations and disadvantages of the technology
  • slope of enlightenment – the gradual return of some users to a given technology, reconciled with its limitations and disadvantages
  • plateau of productivity – the use of the technology in daily manufacturing processes.

The first graph depicts Gartner’s predictions for all new technologies. 3D printing is present in the three items: “3D Bioprinting Systems for Organ Transplant”, “Consumer 3D Printing” (the low-cost 3D printers for home users), “Enterprise 3D Printing” (3D printing in businesses).

As you can see, the organ 3D printing is in the first, earliest stage of development, which is, in fact, expected to unfold over the next 5-10 years. In short, at present, when it comes to organ transplantations, we still need to wait for a donor. Moreover, given the position the technology occupies in Gartner’s chart, the printed organs will be available for our children, at the earliest, and it is only when they reach the age of our parents…

The low-cost 3D printers are entering the dark phase of a general disillusionment of the consumers. Which is precisely what we have observed in our articles. This state has a chance to last at least until 2020 (or longer…). On the other hand, the use of 3D printing technology in businesses is inevitably approaching the farthest and most stable part of the cycle – the everyday use.

Interestingly, Gartner estimates that the lot of the low-cost 3D printer will also be shared by the wearables industry (the smartwatches etc.) and the Internet Of Things (which is still in the inflated expectations phase). At least it is comforting that 3D printers are in a very honorable group of technologies which are associated with incomparably better prospects…

Gartner has also prepared a separate chart devoted to 3D printing technology itself:

There are no surprises here either (at least not for me…). The “3D printing for rapid prototyping” and “3D printing (of solutions) for listening devices” are in the last segment of the cycle. They are followed by 3D scanners (albeit, the professional ones, not for the regular consumer), service companies, software for spatial design and 3D printing in businesses, which was already mentioned in the earlier chart. In other words, all the areas where the 3D printing technology has been present for at least 5-10 years. The 3D printing in prosthetics is gradually coming out of the disappointment stage and within the next 5-10 years it is to enter the phase of everyday use.

The consumer 3D printing and the 3D printing used for the production process enters a phase of disillusionment. The same will happen in the field of the medical devices manufacture. All the other ideas and solutions are still at an early stage of development. 3D printing of consumer products is at the very beginning of the cycle. It may be assumed that it will be decades before this segment enters the production phase.

Interestingly, the famous 3D printing of houses is completely absent – unless it is included in the definition of “macro 3D printing”? If so, it is at the stage of innovation – and will not reach its position earlier than after 10 years.

That is all, when it comes to predicting the cycles of interest in the 3D printing technology. What about the monetary values? The research company A.T. Kearney has recently presented a report entitled: “3D Printing: A Manufacturing Revolution”, in which they presented their predictions about the market value of 3D printing in the next 5 years.

According to the report, the value of the 3D printing market currently amounts to $ 4.5 billion and by 2020 will reach $ 17.2 billion.

Like Gartner, A.T. Kearney predicts that the increase will be mainly due to the implementations of 3D printing in heavy industry and medicine. A significant increase will also occur in the jewelry industry, where the 3D printers are used to print prototypes for casting molds. This industry will primarily use 3D printers working with light-curing resins and wax.

As for the consumer market, it is included under the last heading, that is… “other”.

Both reports clearly show that while the growth in the popularity and the use of 3D printing is rather inevitable, in the next few years it will be present mainly in those areas where it has been present for many years or… always. The aviation, automotive and general production industries, as well as medicine, are the ones who finance and spur the development of the technology. Other business segments – including the consumer market, have yet a long way to go before 3D printing is present on a par with other solutions.


Paweł Ślusarczyk
CEO of 3D Printing Center. Has over 15 years' experience in buisiness, gained in IT, advertising and polygraphy. Part of 3D printing industry since 2013.

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