The number of 3D printers being sold is set to double by 2015 despite hype outpacing technical realities, according to analysts at Gartner.
The firm predicts that worldwide shipments of 3D printers costing less than $100,000 will grow 49 percent in 2013, bringing the total number to 56,507 units.
"The 3D printer market has reached its inflection point," said Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner in a statement. "While still a nascent market, with hype outpacing the technical realities, the speed of development and rise in buyer interest are pressing hardware, software and service providers to offer easier-to-use tools and materials that produce consistently high-quality results."
Business to boost sales
In 2013, Gartner predicts, combined end-user spending on 3D printers will climb to $412 million, up 43 percent from spending of $288 million in 2012. More than three-quarters of the spending, $325 million, will come from the enterprise market, while the consumer segment will reach nearly $87 million.
Gartner anticipates that enterprise and consumer demand for 3D printers will increase further as innovations boost the quality and performance of devices. It said that shipments will grow 75 percent in 2014 to 98,065 units, followed by a near doubling of unit shipments in 2015.
In 2014, Gartner believes, 3D printer spending will increase 62 percent to $669 million, with enterprise spending accounting for $536 million and consumer spending for $133 million.
"As the products rapidly mature, organizations will increasingly exploit 3D printing's potential in their laboratory, product development and manufacturing operations," Basiliere added. "In the next 18 months, we foresee consumers moving from being curious about the technology to finding reasons to justify purchases as price points, applications, and functionality become more attractive."
Impact still imagined
Current uses of 3D technology focus on one-off or small-run models for product design and industrial prototyping, jigs and fixtures used in manufacturing processes, and mass customization of finished goods, according to Gartner. However, the research firm believes the use cases of 3D printers are set to expand to areas such as architecture, defense, medical products, and jewelry design as advances in 3D printers, scanners, design tools, and materials reduce the cost and complexity of creating 3D printed items.
Gartner also predicts that 3D printing will have a high impact on industries, including consumer products, industrial and manufacturing. Indeed, NASA has already used 3D printing to create a component for its rocket engines and the American space agency also has plans to launch a 3D printer to into space next year so that astronauts can make things on the fly.
Back in July, the first 3D printer hit the street in the U.K. when electronics retailer Maplin added the Velleman K8200 to its stores. Looking ahead, Gartner expects that by 2015, seven of the 50 largest multinational retailers will sell 3D printers through their physical and online stores.
In the U.S., office supply retailer Staples was first to offer 3D printers last May.
"Simply experiencing the technology and conceiving ways to use it will mainly drive makers and hobbyists, not the average consumer, to purchase a 3D printer to begin with," said Basiliere. "However, we expect that a compelling consumer application something that can only be created at home on a 3D printer will hit the scene by 2016."
This story, "3D printer prices will drop as sales climb, Gartner predicts" was originally published by Techworld.com.