3D Printing

Why-to Read the Wohlers Report on 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing:

I believe it safe to say that the Wohlers Report is almost unanimously agreed to be the most important trade publication in the 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry. Those new to 3D printing, or who care for a brief refresher, may find it helpful to know exactly why this report is so highly valued by industry insiders. For that reason, this why-to may better outline why anyone might consider reading the Wohlers Report 2014, or any other edition of the report for that matter.

wohlers report 2014 with 3D Printing IndustryPublished every year by leading industry consulting firm Wohlers Associates, the Wohlers Report is the longest running analytic report in the 3D printing industry, going on 19 consecutive years of publication. That’s a long time, and a lot of experience, in an industry that’s only been around for about 27 years. Compare that to how long some piece of technology, such as the automobile, and its accompanying trade journals have been in existence.

Why-to compare differing technologies and the amount of time that they have been in existence:

When considering the entire length of human history, along with technological developments throughout that time, one can grasp a given piece of technology in a much larger context. For instance, it’s been reported that the iconic wheel – a circular component that rotates along an axis – has been involved in driving human civilization since the 4th millennium BCE. In contrast, the automobile, which builds off of that essential principal of a rotating circle, has only been around since the end of the 19th century CE, giving humans a little over one hundred years to play with this semi-automatic transportation technology and write about it in trade journals, with six thousand years to play with rotating circles alone. If cars are toddlers in this larger historical context, then 3D printing is a newborn infant! And the Wohlers Report has been there nearly since this baby’s inception.  If not as a parent figure, then, at the very least, as a godparent.  Say, an avuncular uncle.

With that 19 years of expert knowledge, Wohlers Associates has been tracking the changes of 3D printing from the beginning, in which it was seen as a pure prototyping technology for planning the end production of products, to something capable of creating complex, one-of-a-kind, finished goods. Of course, those who have been following the industry in recent years, or even since its infancy, are already aware of the Wohlers Report’s impact on and importance to 3D printing.

Why-to read the Wohlers Report if you’ve been following the industry for some time:

If you’ve been following the industry for some time, there’s no need for me to tell you how invaluable it has been for understanding 3D printing and additive manufacturing. But, you may believe that reading an edition of the report five years ago is simply enough to become familiar with the industry.


Why-to read the Wohlers Report 2014 even if you’ve read a report from five years ago:

The Wohlers Report is constantly evolving, with Wohlers Associates putting countless hours into each year’s publication and writing a thorough update of the industry’s progress.  The 2014 report, for instance, features 70 co-authors in 24 countries, as well as input from 82 service providers, 29 system manufacturers, and many others. This input doesn’t come just in the form of analysis and insight, but with hard facts and figures.


Why-to publish hard facts and figures:

This year’s report includes, to quote the publishers themselves,“35 charts and graphs, 60 tables, and more than 248 images and illustrations.”  And these are no doodles.  Not all readers can absorb information from text alone.  These charts, with hard numbers, both illustrate the state of the 3D printing industry in a style geared towards visual learners, but also provide a concrete basis for understanding which companies are growing, what systems are selling in how many countries, and more.

And, as the technology – and the economy and society that surrounds it – continues to change, so do these manufacturers and service providers.  Your favorite company from five years ago may no longer be around.  Or you might find that a once forgotten manufacturer, say from Japan, has decided to come back to the market by revitalizing an old 3D printing technology.

And, now, 3D printing is truly coming into its own, entering into the consciousnesses of ordinary consumers. The industry is projected to earn $7 billion by 2016. And that’s just money! The technology has also been predicted to unleash a wave of individually tailored, locally manufactured goods in a potentially ecologically sustainable manner at a potentially low cost.

Why-to unleash a wave of individually tailored, locally manufactured goods in a potentially ecologically sustainable manner at a potentially low cost:

Can you imagine what it would be like if every piece of clothing, bite of food, tablet of medicine were 3D printed with the least amount of material waste possible right near you and exactly for you and at low, low prices? With fewer ships, planes, and trucks carrying goods across the planet from centralized locations, that mass manufacture goods with a one-size-fits-all mentality, and less wasted material for excess stock items, Earth might not be having the spastic fits of extreme weather it’s having in response to climate change. And, even if it were too late to avert ecological disaster, at least all of our clothes would fit properly.

So, as the industry experiences this tremendous boom and with more and more previously unaware people being introduced to 3D printing, the Wohlers Report becomes increasingly valuable as a source of knowledge for the technology’s roots and routes into the future.  Because, not only does the report track the changes of already commercial companies and 3D printing processes, but it lists the research and development currently taking place, from food printers to nanoprinters, allowing readers to paint a vision of the future.

Why-to paint a vision of the future:

The future, as far as we can tell, does not yet exist.  Temporarily barring all theories of fate and determinism, it may be that we construct our own futures. By building technologies and social structures that enable human progress towards a sense of collective contentment, it may be that the future is a profoundly gratifying time and place for our species.  And, in imagining that place and painting a vivid picture of what such a world might look like, it’s possible that we will project our energies in that direction.  Not just for the fulfillment of basic human needs of food, water, shelter, and love, but for something resembling purpose.

And, with thoughtful analysis, you, the reader, can see for yourself what opportunities – financial, social, ecological, and ontological – may await you as this fascinating and lucrative technology takes over the planet.  That being said, why not read the Wohlers Report? 


Now, if you’re wondering why-to 3D print anything in the first place, I suggest you start here.