The growth in 3D printing is undeniable as the technology takes hold in businesses and labs around the world. 3D printers have made their way into the world’s top research facilities and many of the largest global corporations ever to exist, as well as — though to much less an extent than earlier hype might have suggested — into homes and more casual use. From extrusion-based desktop machines churning out baubles to industrial versions of the same working on production lines, from precise metal machines to sleek resin-based technologies, 3D printers relying on a variety of technologies and materials have been seeing an increase in adoption as the industry around additive manufacturing surges. Industry watchers regularly report on trends, market leadership, and milestones — and today, Wednesday, December 6th, we see a new major milestone marked: the sale of the mllionth desktop 3D printer.
Sold in the Netherlands at Eindhoven-based 3D printing retailer Lay3rs, the milestone machine is a FELIX Tec 4 3D printer from FELIXprinters, purchased by Vera de Pont, a Dutch designer specializing in fashion tech. And yes, there were balloons to celebrate.
“The Millionth Desktop 3D Printer is a huge milestone for the 3D printing industry,” Lay3rs owner Albert Falck tells 3DPrint.com.
“The desktop 3D printing industry is only around ten years old today and to have across, so relatively few years have already sold a million machines is astonishing. Of course, some people were saying that everyone would have a printer so compared to that a million printers may be a disappointment to some. At Lay3rs we support lots of customers from large manufacturing companies to people who 3D print at home. With such a broad selection of 3D printers and customers, we see all kinds of people. Across the board, we notice that people are becoming much more professional and demanding. When we began Lay3rs, people saw 3D printing as a novelty. Now customers are using it in production and manufacturing. Desktop 3D printers themselves are becoming better as well and increasing in functionality. People such as Vera are using this technology to as small businesses compete at the very edge of new technology, this is just one of the things that is 3D printing fact, not 3D printing hype.”
Small businesses, such as those de Pont runs, benefit from desktop 3D printing as it allows for new possibilities. The 26-year-old Dutch designer has been working for a few years with an Ultimaker Original 3D printer in her work, but was in search of a new machine that would allow for her to try conductive filaments and PCL filaments to make directly 3D printed wearables. In addition to wearables, she also works with designs such as 3D printed shoes and digitally manufactured apparel, and is engaged in a multi-year research project devoted to developing her own 3D printed smart textiles. Her work is further informed by her interest in zero-waste patterns, slow fashion, and digitally manufactured form-fitting clothing. A 2015 gradute from the Design Academy, de Pont speaks and presents about design worldwide.
The new 3D printer represents an opening door to new possibilities for de Pont’s work. She tells us that she “can’t wait to get my printer so I can use it to make wearables.” 3D printing brings new possibilities into her designs, and working with a newer model machine opens up additional opportunity for advances in her work.
“3D printing gives me the freedom to develop and manufacture in my studio. Clothing is now made through very environmentally damaging ways and shipped around the world before being worn and then thrown away quickly. There must be more sustainable ways to make clothing. This is what attracts me to where fashion and technology collide,” she tells 3DPrint.com.
“I’m using 3D printing to try to develop a more sustainable way to make good clothing. This printer, the FelixPrinters Tec 4, will really help me make new flexible 3D prints for wearables I’m experimenting with. I like the large build volume and the fact that it is open which makes it easy for me to modify it. I’ve heard excellent things about these FELIXPrinters from friends.”
FELIXprinters, based near Utrecht, manufactures its 3D printers domestically. The company traces its roots back to 2010, when, in need of a 3D printer to create robot parts for his courses at university, Guillaume Feliksdal turned to his own knowledge of mechatronics to design his own 3D printer.
FELIXprinters now operates as an independent family-run business managed by Guillaume and his father Wilgo Feliksdal, working with global partners to bring desktop 3D printing to more users and introducing new machines as they continue to advance capabilities.
“At FELIXPrinters we take our customers seriously and support them through our modular, easy to maintain, reliable and robust systems,” Wilgo Feliksdal tells us. “Clients in over 50 countries rely on FELIXPrinters to manufacture and prototype, and this is something we’re incredibly proud of. We take pride in our quality 3D printers and are always astonished by what customers make with them. It’s so nice to meet Vera today, designers and engineers such as she are advancing 3D printing by pushing the boundaries of the technology. I really hope she continues to keep us in in the loop with her advances in 3D printed textiles and smart printed wearables. It’s always wonderful when we see how we’re empowering people to create the next [project] using FELIXPrinters.”
The industry is frequently supportive of the growth that can be achieved by working together, as collaborations between distributors, hardware manufacturers, material suppliers, and users lead to greater progress than any alone might achieve. In that spirit, and in commemoration of what the company calls a momentous occasion, de Pont is also receiving “free filament for life from 3D4Makers.”
3D4Makers is offering de Pont full access to bulk filaments (e.g., PETG, ABS, PLA; not their engineering-grade materials, e.g., PEEK, PEI). This Netherlands-based company is often hard at work developing new materials for 3D printing, such as the recently-introduced Facilan C8 developed with Perstorp. Another family-owned endeavor, 3D4Makers believes in high-quality filament as a necessity for creating high-quality 3D prints. The company sees the growth in 3D printer sales as a definite boon for the materials that go along with them.
“We’re very excited at the news that there are a million 3D printers in the world, that’s a lot of devices that need filament! And we make filament, so that’s perfect,” Ardy Struijk, Sales Manager, 3D4Makers, tells 3DPrint.com.
“We’re so excited about the changing 3D printing landscape as well. It seems like only yesterday when all you had was silly neon, glitter and pastel filaments in a thousand varieties. Remember when all everyone did with desktop 3D printers was print silly tchotchkes? People were just printing useless things that you wouldn’t pay ten cents for in a store. For many, 3D printers were a novelty, a curiosity to put in the corner of your office. And look now, a million have been sold, a million! That means that one in seven thousand people have access to a 3D printer. And now people are accelerating business with 3D printers, inventing with them, creating new products. Its a been such an incredible journey these past years. At 3D4Makers we’re enthused that now engineers, designers, medical researchers and other professionals are demanding functional filaments for functional things.”
The growth in 3D printing that so excites the 3D4Makers team, as well as Lay3rs and de Pont, is substantiated through careful tabulation of industry sales. Industry consultant and Wohlers Report contributor Joris Peels has recently calculated that more than 120,000 3D printers are being sold each month. He tells us of his methods that export data, tax data, and serial numbers are among the metrics he uses to develop these figures, and “If we add it all up we hit a million now.”
Exact figures are of course difficult to track for desktop 3D printers unit sales, so the millionth sale milestone is celebration of a strong estimate rather than a definitive number. With DIY kits, privately held companies that do not report figures, different HS codes, investors, and other elements, Peels underscores, “this estimate is an estimate.”
Still, for desktop 3D printer sales to be anywhere near one million units is a major achievement for this industry. While in the hype era circa 2012-2015 many might have expected to see these sales directed toward consumers, today we are aware that the best early use cases for adoption come from professional use, where access to on-demand 3D printing is changing operations. From spare parts to fashion design, desktop 3D printers are establishing themselves as a firm presence on many workbenches — and looking at the accelerating trends, it won’t be another decade before we hit another million sales.
Discuss 3D printer sales growth and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[All Photos: Joris Peels]