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Gartner Remains Cautious Over Consumer Level 3D Printing

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Market leading IT research and advisory firm, Gartner, suggests a minimum of five to ten years for the consumer level adoption of 3D printing. This timeline is inline with many expert predictions on the highly anticipated boom in home based 3D printing.

“Consumer 3D printing is around five to ten years away from mainstream adoption,” said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner. “Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 startups worldwide are developing and selling consumer-oriented 3D printers, priced from just a few hundred dollars. However, even this price is too high for mainstream consumers at this time, despite broad awareness of the technology and considerable media interest.”

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In their report titled “Hype Cycle for 3D Printing, 2014” (which is available on Gartner’s website), Gartner sets out their predictions for the development of a technology which promises so many applications. While suggesting that home consumers may need to be patient in the wait for a practical and affordable 3D printer, Gartner believes that medical and business applications will drive the industry in the coming years. The study consulted organizations from across the sector, be it technology providers, government agencies, current users or educational and financial institutions. From this broad research, two main themes emerged.

First were the stark differences between the enterprise 3D printing market and the consumer 3D printing market. Although some companies are minimizing risk and capital investment by acquiring consumer devices to discover the potential benefits of 3D printing for their business, that is really where the similarities end. Essentially, the 3D printing industry needs to have a completely different approach in order to significantly penetrate the consumer market and this approach will take time to develop.

Secondly, 3D printing is currently not one technology but seven different technologies. Gartner’s Basiliere suggests. “Hype around home use obfuscates the reality that 3D printing involves a complex ecosystem of software, hardware and materials whose use is not as simple to use as ‘hitting print’ on a paper printer. The seven different technologies each have pros and cons, and printers work with varying build sizes and materials. This means organizations must begin with the end products in mind.”

Similar to the emergence of many technologies in recent decades, 3D printing needs to determine the specific consumer demands, in order to develop a practical and affordable technology. Basiliere recommends the industry should “First, determine the material, performance and quality requirements of the finished items; second, determine the best 3D printing technology; and third, select the right 3D printer.”

The report may disappoint many consumers and retailers eagerly awaiting the age where home based 3D printing is commonplace. However, most will accept that the complexity that still exists with the technology must be overcome first. We can all rest assured that 3D printing’s commercial potential will ensure that all industry forces will be pushing in the same direction; to make consumer 3D printing a reality as soon as possible.

What do you think about Gartner’s report?  Do you agree that 3D printing is still several years off from being commonplace in homes?  Discuss in the Gartner Consumer 3D Printing Report forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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