The past few years have seen the steady growth of an industry that created a lot a lot of noise, hype and promises a decade ago only to fade from existence seemingly. The return of 3D printing has come with a bang and is staking its claim to be the way forward in global manufacturing.
A recent report by Wohlers Associates in 2018 called the 3D Printing and Addictive Manufacturing State of Industry report, is predicting big things for the industry, not just that service and products through manufacturing will reach $28 billion by 2023, but adoption in general in the workplace will expand considerably. This comes on the back of last year’s Sculpteo report that was focused on professionals utilising addictive manufacturing.
That survey’s findings then were interesting:
- 59% of Americans & 69% of Europeans, surveyed were skilled at using 3D printers.
- 47% of the companies surveyed saw a higher ROI on their 3D printing investments than the 12 months previously.
Increased spending on 3D printing becoming a trend
Skilled 3D printer users are rapidly growing
The industry has defined desktop 3D printers based on an addictive manufacturing system costing under US$5000. In the last decade, we have seen an exponential rise in sales. We look back to 2007 to see just an estimated 66 units sold in comparison to just shy of 529,000 in 2017. The report also looks to draw a line through the median price range of both desktop and industrial versions. The desktop price averaged out at just over $1,150 which equates to it being 81 times cheaper than its industrial counterpart weighing in just over $92,250.
It has become known in the industry as the explosion of the ‘prosumer’ meaning (professional consumer) sector of the 3D printing desktop market and is providing us with some telling statistics.
Retail prices are over the $3,000 and often higher than $5,000 mark with machines aimed at businesses looking for rapid in-house production and prototyping solutions, a far cry in such a short space of time from printer inks and toner cartridges.
3D printing usage from 2015 up to the start of 2018
Although 3D printing was invented in the Reagan era and was a real buzzword around a decade ago, 2012 was the peak of what is now referred to as ‘The 3D printing hype’ when 3D printing possibilities seemed boundless, and the expectation for it to become mainstream almost overnight seemed nigh.
Regular references we abound of ‘The New Industrial Revolution’ fuelling public interest to a fever pitch, unfortunately, it came with a massive hangover of creating unrealistic expectations regarding the reality of where the technology was at the time.
So the industry landed itself in a head-on collision with what could be and what in reality was feasible leading to a consensus that Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) systems were inadequate and insufficient tools.
Negativity quickly spread throughout manufacturing and professional consumers who tried to incorporate the earlier systems into production and found the technology wanting. Creating what was known at the time as the ‘False-start Effect’. This resulted in investment directed elsewhere, and in some cases outsourcing the parts production to other providers and a move away from FFF and back to industry standard fabrication methods.
The Six Year Evolution
In the past six years, we have seen a seismic momentum shift in the advancement of the FFF systems available on the market. The low-quality results were the main drawbacks of the early models, with deformations being a prominent foe to printers back then, lacking consistency led to no guaranteed repeatability and minimal material options at the time had the industry very much swimming against the tide.
Of course, one of the major components of 3D printing is not the printer itself, it’s the software that accompanies it, in addition to the filament either being ABS or PLA giving a limited build volume, you were adding un-optimised files and cutting software with unreliable hardware.
The list of issues was endless, and reliability seemed to be the final nail in the coffin as machines regularly needed not only maintenance, but a decent level of technical knowledge of how these machines worked, especially hardware calibration and that was not a common trait back then.
The issues have been dealt with comprehensively in recent times with Prosumer manufacturers now resolving issues such as:
- Evolving agile desktop systems
- Iterative designs
- Optimised hardware
- Optimised Software
- New materials
- Adaptation to various office situations
Now the prosumer market is changing perceptions of what FFF systems can bring to the table again, but this time without the hype, they bring the proof.
The Re-Assessment Process
With the emergence of new solutions, this is a prime time for business to re-assess their strategy realising the limitations have been lifted and begin to understand the iterative design possibilities.
Wohlers Associates are reporting that revenues from 3D printer sales are also currently on an upward trend as companies go back into research stage to see what FFF can bring to the table for them with upgraded solutions to a prosumer level.
At the same time further closing the gap between the office desktop 3D printer and bringing the high-end industrial addictive manufacturing versions together to a point where they can be seen as somewhat comparable in areas such as:
- Surface Finish
- Material versatility
- Timeframe to produce
Despite FFF solutions having their origins firmly rooted in DIY, the new present-day machines have none of the limitations of just six years ago and are pushing the boundaries of creativity and ideas in the workplace. Both the hardware, software and materials have undergone an overhaul in significant development with the objective of offering the user a hassle-free reliable end product.
Conclusion: Where this market will explode is down to the basic fact that it offers smaller to medium-sized businesses the capabilities to explore areas they would not have been able to, time-wise or budget wise. With the right collective, high-end engineering can take place in-house, in a safe and easy-to-use solution that requires no outsourcing, providing greater control over production time and of course the result – higher ROI in a shorter timeframe, the Holy Grail of business.
3D printing is back with a bang and this time, Do Believe The Hype.
Author bio: Heidi Kovic is a tech blogger with a keen interest in business affairs, she likes to travel and is a big into global cuisines. She is associated with Printzone who are leaders in printer cartridges and ink cartridges in Australia.