Most technology experts as well as business analysts will tell you that the 3D printing industry has been over hyped these last 12-18 months. Sure there is a tremendous amount of hype around the emerging technology of 3D printing, but in my opinion, the hype is warranted.
Every few weeks we see business reports released, stating that the 3D printing market will grow by a certain percentage annually, or will be worth a certain amount of money in the coming years. Most experts are predicting that the market (which includes 3d printer sales, filament and other material sales, and services) will grow by 20-25% annually over the next five years, while the consensus is that the market will be worth anywhere from $13-22 billion by 2019. Considering that in 2013 this number was a mere $2.5 billion, that is certainly a lot of growth.
I’m here to tell you that I think all these numbers are actually much too low. Yes, growth of nearly 1000% in 6 years may seem unsustainable, but there are so many pieces coming together around 3d printing, so much research being done across virtually every industry out there, that many people, even the experts, will be surprised. Here are a few reason why the market will be much larger than even some of the most optimistic business analysts believe.
Medical 3D Printing Worth Tens of Billions of Dollars
Drug testing is what empties the pockets of many of the pharmaceutical companies out there. Each year, over $40 billion is spent on clinical trials in the United States alone. Companies like Organovo are working on 3D printing human tissue, which in the short run will allow pharmaceutical companies to test their drugs on human cells without a risk to human beings. Other companies are also working on similar technology. If just 10% of the funds used during clinical trials are funneled into such technology, that would equate to $4 billion annually, just right there. Now if you consider the possibility of printers being sold just for the purpose of printing out prosthetic devices, or even actual organs, like a liver, that number could easily quadruple.
Hewlett Packard and Epson May Create an Innovation Explosion
The competition by the various 3D printer manufacturers like Voxeljet, Stratasys, and 3D Systems, has been heating up these last couple of years. The number of patents awarded in the last four years targeted towards the 3D printing market, is greater than the total number of patents awarded in the previous 20 years combined. That’s because competition is driving innovation. Hewlett Packard has announced that they intend to enter the 3D printing market, sometime by the end of this year. Epson has also expressed some interest. When these mega-billion dollar corporations start competing in an already competitive market, not only will innovation heat up, but the technology will enter the mainstream. Take a look at what happened when Apple and Google entered the smartphone arena to join Blackberry. The competition led to amazing products which pushed them into the mainstream.
Competition Between Nations
If you are old enough, think back to the 1950’s and 60’s. Remember what the Cold war did for technological progress here in the United States? We sent a man to the moon, refined our nuclear technology, and stepped into an era of advanced weaponry. Fast forward 50 to 60 years and we see a similar, yet less severe, rivalry between the U.S. and China. The rivalry this time involves employment, economics, and politics. We have been the leader in 3d printing technology over the last several years, but China has stepped it up big time. In fact, the Chinese are working on 3D metal laser sintering printers which can print objects as large as 20-30 feet in each direction. The U.S. has started to work on similar projects as well. The market for large scale manufacturing printers like this could be worth tens of billions of dollars annually alone. Throw in the fact that both nations are pushing to create a cheap, realiable method of 3D printing homes, and you could be talking about materials and printers valued at over $50 billion sold each year. As technologies progress, they usually expand their scope to larger, more lucrative, areas. This is what will likely take place over the next 5-6 years.
The future of this industry is incredibly bright. Yes it does seem like there is a tremendous amount of hype out there, but that hype is warranted. Do you have an opinions on 3D printing’s future? Feel free to join in onthis discussion at the forum.
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