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There’s been much talk about how 3D printer sales have been noticeably weak in 2015, especially looking at the recent third quarter reports. But if you take a step back and look at the big picture, you see remarkable progress as 3D printing has been transformed from a pre-2007 industrial/professional-focused technology called “rapid prototyping” or “additive manufacturing,” only accessible if you had about $100,000. Today’s more personal/desktop-focused 3D printers emerged as old patents expired, and the cost of 3D printers plummeted for desktop users. The technology was democratized, and you can now purchase a 3D printer for under $5,000.rep1

Together, the industrial and desktop sectors, known together as the 3D printing market, have sold a whopping half million 3D printers overall, according to a new 3D printing research update from CONTEXT. The market might be going through some growing pains currently, but overall we see huge progress as more people catch on to what this amazing technology can do.

85% of the half million 3D printers sold emerge from the personal/desktop segment, where 3D printers have a “global average weighted price of $1,451.” What a far cry from the $100,000 of yesteryear!

chartHere, in the above (slightly faded) chart, we see a huge growth of the light blue bars. That indicates the sale of personal/desktop 3D printers from 1989-2015. Since 2013, in two short years, sales have more than doubled. According to the CONTEXT 3D Printing Research Update:

“Nonetheless, the market is on track to ship the millionth unit by 2017 and upwards of 1M units per year by 2019. However, reaching these new milestones will depend on the aid of new market entrants.”

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Let’s break down what happened here with 3D printing companies and what it means for the market if it is to reach 1 million sales by 2017. 3D printing giants 3D Systems and Stratasys have shown signs of struggle recently. Stratasys laid workers off from its personal/desktop division, MakerBot. 3D Systems’ CEO and President stepped down in October. Both companies posted weak earnings in Q3 2015.

Chris Connery, VP for Global Analysis at CONTEXT, summarizes the year:

“Growth in 3D printing has been phenomenal in recent years. This year has been challenging especially in the long standing Industrial/Professional market. Through the first half of this year, there have been 1% fewer printers shipped in this high-end sector than in the first half of last year, a stark contrast to the shipment growth of 29% seen from 2013 to 2014.”

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There’s also a new development on the horizon that is not to be overlooked. 2D sector companies, like Canon, Ricoh, and Hewlett Packard, are now “dipping their toes” in the 3D printing pool. Let’s take HP as an example of an emerging 2D to 3D player. The CONTEXT report update states:

“As Hewlett Packard splits into HP Inc and HP Enterprise, HP Inc is using 3D printing as a showcase piece for the new company and there are indications that its MultiJet Fusion (MJF) technology will be brought to the professional market in late 2016. It is also continuing to promote a desktop/personal 3D printer alongside its consumer SPROUT PC to showcase its 3D scanning capabilities and the two are reportedly often purchased together via HP.com.”

Those are big changes at Hewlett Packard, and they are partly ushered in by the company’s growth into the 3D printing market.

The CONTEXT update summarizes by stating that most personal/desktop sales are to “B2B [small businesses] and educational institutions,” and Stratasys’ and 3D Systems’ sales have not reached their “lofty expectations.” In the meantime, new entrants from the 2D sector keep the market not only staying afloat, but growing into a million sales strong.

CONTEXT is also keeping an eye on specific areas in 3D printing, such as the expected continuation of healthy growth in metal 3D printing applications.  Discuss this story in the 3D Printer Sales forum on 3DPB.com.

Interesting times for 3D printing, indeed!

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