Business analysts have been predicting some rapid growth in the 3D printing industry for several months now, and for the most part sales trends this year have been giving those predictions a lot of weight. According to the technology research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.,worldwide 3D printer shipments are expected to exceed 496,475 units by the end of 2016. That is an increase of 103% over the predicted 244,533 units that are expected to be shipped by the end of 2015. According to a new forecast report from Gartner, they expect 3D printer sales to more than double every year until 2019 when they predict worldwide shipments will climb to more than 5.6 million units.
Of the seven types of 3D printing technologies that currently dominate the 3D printer market it is little surprise that the leading process will remain material extrusion or FDM 3D printers for the foreseeable future. In 2015, FDM 3D printers are expected to account for a whopping 232,336 of the 244,533 units expected to be sold this year. By 2019 that number is expected to jump up to 5,527,493 units, a massive 97.5% of all printers sold. That number is mostly due to a massive and unexpected uptick in sales for low cost, entry-level 3D printers being sold to homes and small businesses.
Gartner specifically notes that 3D printer prices will be playing an ever increasing role in which units are purchased by new or inexperienced users. As you would expect, sub-$1,000 3D printers and 3D printers priced between $1,001 and $2,500 remain the two most popular price points in the market. Currently, units costing less than $1,000 make up about 25.5% of all 3D printers sold at those two prices points combined. However, by 2019 sub-$1,000 3D printers are expected to make up 40.7% of units sold for all printers under $2,500.
“Rapid quality and performance innovations across all 3D printer technologies are driving both enterprise and consumer demand, with unit shipment growth rates for 3D printers increasing significantly. The 3D printer market is continuing its transformation from a niche market to broad-based, global market of enterprises and consumers,” said Gartner research vice president Pete Basiliere.
While we’ve seen several new 3D printing processes being adapted to the desktop market, clearly extrusion driven 3D printers are going to be the industry standard for the next few years. Because 3D printers priced below $2,500 are almost all extrusion driven 3D printers, it is clear cost is an important factor in that dominance. However it is likely that material cost will be playing a significant role in those sales as well. Especially as filament prices continue to drop as an increasing number of manufacturers vie for market dominance and develop a greater number of specialty materials.
While sales to makers and the hobbyist market are expected to remain strong, the primary reason for the huge jump in sales of 3D printers priced under $2,500 is expected to be purchases made by schools and universities. The low buy-in cost and ease of use make them particularly attractive for educational uses. Just as the growing ability of FDM 3D printers to produce finished-piece quality objects and a more varied range of filament types will drive an increase in small businesses opting to purchase lower cost alternatives.
“Enterprise 3D printers can not only prototype new products and produce tools and fixtures that are used to make other items, but also print high-quality, short-run finished goods. This multifaceted ability is driving their growth worldwide,” continued Basiliere.
Currently the most expensive 3D printing process is directed-energy deposition printers like electron beam melting (EMB) printers, which are used primarily for industrial and aerospace applications. After metal 3D printing, powder bed fusion 3D printing processes like selective laser sintering (SLS) or selective laser melting carry the second most expensive price tags. Price points in these areas are expected to remain relatively unchanged for the next few years, which will price them well beyond reach of the desktop market.
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