As we get started on the 5th month of 2014, we have already seen a steady stream of ground breaking news coming from the 3D Printing Industry. 2014 promises to be the most exciting year in additive manufacturing that we have seen yet, as several companies compete to become the most profitable 3D printing company on the planet. Competition is really heating up, which means a lot of awesome innovation. In addition to the already large corporations within the industry, some goliaths within the 2D printing arena may enter the battle as well. Here are some predictions about where the industry is headed between now and December 31st of this year, which I have made with the help of our editors. They are opinions only, and should be taken with a grain of salt. Note that many of these predictions are based on facts, while some are simply guesses.
Consumer Based 3D Metal Printing and Desktop SLS Printers Begins to Take Off
Although it likely won’t be until late 2015 when we get some quality, consumer oriented, metal 3D printers using laser sintering technology, we will begin to see a few cheap metal printers come to market prior to the end of this year. As laser sintering patents continue to expire throughout the remainder of the year, a huge opening will develop, and the pent up demand may eventually be alleviated somewhat. These printers will likely be from small companies, who may gather funding via crowdfunding methods. By cheap, we mean a sub $5000 printer that utilizes laser sintering technology, and is marketed towards small businesses. They will have to address safety concerns if they wish to be successful.
Major 3D Printing Acquisition by Mainstream Tech Company
There are several large 3D printing companies out there, worth billions of dollars, but there are also a handful of tech companies worth $100 billion+, who could gobble up one or two of these 3D printing companies with no trouble. Companies which could be acquired are VoxelJet, Exone, 3D Systems, Stratasys, or Organovo. The acquiring companies could be HP, Epson, IBM, Intel, Google, Microsoft or Apple. It’s bound to happen as the big boys in technology start figuring out that they can not afford to miss out on the rapidly growing industry.
Average of 10-15% Price Decrease for Plastic Filaments
The competition for all kinds of plastic filaments has been heating up as well over the last 12 months. By the end of this year, we should see a nice price decline in filament. The average price could drop as much as 10-15% by December, as companies battle it out for our dollars. Already we are seeing waste to filament machines, which allow everyday people to turn their plastic bottles into 3D printer filament. Filament providers can not keep their margins at nearly 1000% for much longer.
Hewlett Packard Re-enters the 3D Printing Market
Likely sometime around the end of this summer or beginning of fall, we will see HP re-enter the market. Their CEO, Meg Whitman, has been quoted as saying that they are working on products within the Industry for release later this year. Hewlett Packard could really be a major player in the consumer based 3D printing industry. They may have what it takes to create a consumer friendly, easy to use printer, that is priced below that of competing companies. Their entrance into the market would certainly push the other big companies like 3D Systems and Stratasys to invest more in R & D, leading to even faster innovation. Could this announcement come during the HP Discover 2014 Conference in Las Vegas on June 10-12? It very well may!
3D Printers Make Their Way Into Schools
We have already seen, in the last 12 months, a rapid increase in the number of 3D printers in American schools. This is partly due to Makerbot’s promotion, in conjunction with Autodesk and DonorsChoose, to give printers to American teachers for just $98. This trend should continue for the remainder of the year. By the end of 2014 it would not be surprising to see 30-40% of all American High School students having access to at least one 3D printer within their school. Over the course of the next 2-3 years I believe we may see a 3D printer in almost every 3rd-12th grade classroom nationwide. Just like the Apple computers of the late 80’s and early 90’s, we will begin to see widespread educational applications for these printers. One of the main impediments to widespread usage in schools is the lack of experience that teachers have with the machines.
There will likely be many other major highlights within the industry in the next 8 months. After all, we have already seen major announcements within the industry this year, yet we are only 4 months into it. 2014 promises to be an exciting year for the entire tech industry as a whole. I can’t wait to see how things develop!
Let us know what your predictions are, in the 2014 3D Printing Predictions thread on 3DPB.com.