Since the inception of the desktop 3D printing market, these devices have largely existed in isolation, distinct islands separate in design and function from their industrial counterparts. However, with the emergence of prosumer models and technological advancements, desktop 3D printers are now encroaching on the domain traditionally reserved for manufacturing. Desktop vat polymerization machines, for instance, have found a niche in jewelry production and are making inroads into the production of hearing aids and dental devices. Similarly, material extrusion machines are being adopted by 3D printing services and are manufacturing at scale for the first time.
The biggest trend I believe we will witness in 2024 is the deployment of desktop 3D printer clusters for manufacturing purposes. Admittedly, these desktop systems cannot match the performance of industrial machines, especially for ‘A side’ parts, which require high quality and are often larger than desktop printers can accommodate. The debate is ongoing: should one invest in an EOS P110 or opt for 150 Bambu Lab printers? For many current applications, the batch productivity and performance of industrial systems remain unrivaled.
Yet, as material costs plummet to a fraction of those for industrial machines and performance steadily improves, desktop 3D printing becomes a viable option in an expanding range of applications. The cost-effectiveness of producing ‘B side’ parts and the potential for automated finishing of ‘A side’ parts are set to significantly expand the industry. This gradual shift of desktop systems into manufacturing spaces heralds one of the most disruptive trends in the 3D printing industry.
Ian Yang, founder and CEO of Gantri, is at the forefront of this trend, harnessing desktop systems to produce lamps. His enthusiasm is palpable as he navigates this innovative manufacturing landscape.
¨Firstly, there have been significant improvements in desktop FDM printers,” Yang said. “The introduction of Bambu has breathed new life into the desktop printing industry, with manufacturers rushing to launch their own high-speed machines. This new class of machines is great for both consumers and large-scale printer operators like Gantri. I’m looking forward to even better machines, hopefully capable of larger-scale printing, in the upcoming year. Secondly, there has been a growing focus on more sustainable materials, particularly in larger scale printing. For the 3D printing industry to revolutionize every aspect of manufacturing, it needs to support materials that end-users prefer. This entails materials that are not only high-performance and engineered for end applications but also regenerative, biodegradable, and safe. I’m looking forward to seeing more bio-based/bio-derived materials.¨
¨Customer demand for industrial additive solutions is cyclical and early 2023 saw restrained growth. From the fourth quarter, industrial customers been spending end-of-year budget on big solutions, and also planning for 2024. We expect strong growth in 2024.In the desktop space, there’s buzz with the lower cost entrants accelerating additive adoption. And from our established global leaders in professional desktop printing, we’re excited for new products and services.¨
Krone’s most optimistic assertion is that the influx of desktop 3D printers is, in fact, expanding the market for all players involved. Echoing this optimism is long-time 3D printing consultant Andrew Allshorn, of 3D-Squared, who underscores the trend:
¨I personally see more and more prosumer machines entering the market and the ones that are already there will just get better, higher resolution screens, DLP versions becoming more accurate and at a fraction of the cost of industrial machines. These machines are far better than the ‘big players’ would have you believe, and the choice of materials is phenomenal, plus there is no RFID chip controlling what you can use and what you can do. These prosumer machines are really going to blow this industry apart. There are several Chinese 3D Printing manufactures that that produce huge printers that are changing the way you buy the machine and offer amazing prices. For example, a free machine if you agree to use a certain volume of material. The trend will be more companies buying prosumer tech as it’s improving rapidly.¨
Allshorn advocates for a more grounded approach to sales, emphasizing the importance of setting realistic expectations rather than overpromising and underdelivering. I’m particularly pleased because, when asked about the most significant trend in 3D printing, Andrew’s thoughts resonated with my own regarding the ascendance of desktop 3D printing. 3D printing consultant and trainer Steve Cox, of Amfori, relayed:
¨We are only part of the way on a journey from Rapid Prototyping to “true” manufacturing. The industry needs to continue to concentrate on where it adds real value which at the moment still seems to be about time compression advantages and hence perhaps we are still in a transitional era of “Rapid ProtoManufacturing” which will continue in 2024. Whilst this is more like a five year plea I would like to see at least some further progress in 2024 showing how we can improve the repeatability and reliability of 3D printing. Without being able to control those two aspects and get the scrap rate down and the repeatability high, this technology will never earn its´ place as a genuine manufacturing method. Manufacturing engineers talk in terms of OEE and Cpk when they consider the merits of a manufacturing set-up, two metrics that are still almost completely absent in the world of 3D printing. Let’s hope we hear more of those terms mentioned in 2024.”
Steve’s perspective strikes a well-balanced note, and I share his hope that our industry will enhance its manufacturing prowess and better communicate its value to the broader manufacturing sector. As we stand at a pivotal junction, it’s important to recognize that as our industry expands, the challenges we face may become more daunting, especially as we undertake more critical tasks and produce components in higher volumes.
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