The number of entry-level 3D printers has grown significantly in recent years – with more than 60 of this type of system now available. According to Wohlers Associates, the number of units sold in 2011 in the United States alone was more 23,000 — in percentage terms this equates to more than 35,000% since 2007 when just 66 units were sold in this bracket. In terms of growth trends this is pretty impressive by any standard and results in some very positive graphs for curve fans. However, it is also interesting to note that the sales numbers of industrial-grade printers are also on a steep journey upwards – sales of 3D printers with an average price tag of $73K have risen 31% in the same period.
Despite these positive, historical figures that will make many 3D printing enthusiasts very happy, the real issues — both positive and negative — lie ahead. While figures for 2012 will not be clearly visible for a while yet, this year has brought us many new 3D printer models and companies with simultaneous increasing media coverage — all of which points to continued growth. Furthermore, the foundations for a growing consumer market have also been laid with the emergence of bricks and mortar retail outlets, such as the MakerBot store, which provides consumers accessibility as well as information.
However, even as growth looks sets to continue at these levels, it is highly unlikely that commercial success will come to all of the 3D printers and companies behind them. Increasing growth correlates with increasing competition, which is likely to get ferocious and we are likely to see some really interesting re-positioning moves, new consumer segments as well as a lot of stories from both ends of the economical spectrum of 3D printers next year.
How do you see the market changing? Will the bigger 3D printing companies, focused on industrial systems, start targeting the consumer market? Would this isolate the new start-ups with a maker focus into their own segregated communities in the process? Why not share your thoughts with all of us here!
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