Mainstream 3D Printer Ownership To Build Slowly

Despite the on-going hype attached to 3D printing, and the advent of more consumer-friendly, affordable machines designed with a mainstream user in mind, consumer adoption of 3D printers is set for relatively slow growth in the near term, according to analyst Juniper Research.

Writing in a new report, Consumer 3D Printing & Scanning: Service Models, Devices & Opportunities 2014-2018, the analyst predicts sales of consumer 3D printers will exceed one million units by 2018, rising from the circa 44,000 estimated to be sold this year.

After what it describes as this “limited” medium term opportunity, Juniper said it does expect a significant increase in shipments beyond the five-year period — driven by widening scope of applicability for 3D printers and the arrival of more established printing vendors into the space, namechecking the likes of HP, along with lower price-tags for the machines.

Educating consumers about what 3D printers can be used to make, as well as creating the ‘killer apps’ and content to drive interest in the notion of print-it-yourself-at-home, are going to be critical factors in establishing a mainstream market, the analyst added.

It noted that “niche and novelty” applications for 3D printers are on the rise, such as the consumer experiences being developed by Hasbro and Hersheys in partnership with 3D printer makers — for print it yourself toys and chocolates, respectively.

“Educating and motivating the public on the idea of 3D printing, to create everyday objects is critical for the long-term success of this segment. Killer applications and content will be the key drivers – something unique and personalised, which is not available in stores already,” said report author Nitin Bhas in a statement.

One consumer-focused 3D printer in the making is the $299 Micro, currently raising funds on Kickstarter to move from prototype to shipping product. The low cost device is now within touching distance of $3 million in crowd pledges — having blasted past its original $50,000 funding goal in 11 minutes — although The Micro’s Kickstarter traction still sums down to a relatively small pool of backers (10,360+ at the time of writing).

The Micro’s measured success (passing $2M raised in just three days is impressive, but again it’s getting that traction by selling to a relatively small group of early adopters) underlines the nascent state of the 3D printing market, as these first few waves of consumer-focused prototype machines seek to prove out the potential they are sketching.

The Micro’s low price-tag is certainly helping to drive interest — but lower prices still will be required to drive greater mainstream adoption, along with improved capabilities and a lot more structured content so that the average 3D printer owner won’t have to come up with all the creative ideas for what to print themselves.