3D Printing

The Expanding Retail 3D Printing Channel —And Other Factors Affecting the Future Growth of Personal 3D Printing

This week marked the “official” launch of Photizo Group’s research and consulting offerings into the world of 3D printing and additive manufacturing. While I’m excited for many reasons, the most interesting part of the market in my opinion is related to personal 3D printing, and how it may (or may not) affect lives in the future.

In fact, I’ve written a white paper detailing how I think this young and vibrant market segment will develop over the next five years. Spoiler alert: I think that it’s going to become a bigger piece of the larger 3D market than some people may be thinking.

There are a couple of primary trends that I see fueling growth in low-cost 3D printers, and I wanted to go into a bit more depth on these trends than the confines of a white paper allow.

Expansion of Sales Channels

The first, most powerful, and probably most obvious trend is the rapid expansion of 3D sales channels, especially in the mainstream. Of course you know I’m talking about Amazon, Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples, and the like. There are more, geographically specific examples of this as well. The “phenomenon factor” of 3D printing has really catalyzed retail adoption of the technology, and most of this adoption has focused on personal 3D printing. This is, for the most part, due to an expanding overlap in customer bases between technology-based retail establishments and the evolving user base of personal 3D printers.

The future expansion of retail sales channels for personal 3D printers will primarily benefit two companies – Stratasys, via MakerBot and 3D Systems. Simply put, these companies may be the only ones that have the production capacity to capitalize on these new channels. While some relevant personal 3D printers are struggling to cut lead times on Kickstarter pre-orders, Stratasys and 3D Systems have been in the game long enough to have a more developed production chain.

Expansion of the retail sales channel has also brought about a more cohesive total buying experience for the personal market, where the most common types of substrates for personal machines can also be bought alongside popular printers (in the case of Amazon). Customers reap the benefits of powerful online buying portals and delivery networks, beyond what would normally be offered from direct sales via manufacturers.

Additionally, physical retail sales channels hold the benefits of exposing potential customers directly to the technology. If the rash of new 3D printing “experience” stores tell us anything, it’s that people who see 3D printers in action are captivated by them.

Commercializing Development

The other growth factor I think is going to be very significant, and also often overlooked, is the integration of two very distinct communities in the world of personal 3D printing. I am, of course, talking about large commercial manufacturers and open-sourced hardware enthusiasts entering into a cycle of semi-mutual development for the evolution of personal 3D technology.

Through its short history, personal 3D printing began under the principles of open-source hardware design. It flourished, to some degree, under these principles for several years. When 3D Systems bought into the segment with the purchase of Bits From Bytes in 2010, however, an important dynamic was set in motion.

I can’t think of a single commercially viable hardware technology today that operates under open-source development principles. In essence, 3D Systems began the commercialization of personal 3D printing when they saw future potential in the market and bought their way in. The buy-in from subsequent manufacturer Stratasys is equally important (as well as MakerBot’s move away from open-source design).

Large manufacturers are going to drive future growth in personal 3D printing because of their ability to add value to the hardware and dedicated development in content-to-print capabilities. While open-source development communities and hobbyists will continue to innovate in other fabrication technologies, like Form1 has done with stereolithography, it will likely be up to the companies with decades of engineering experience and budgets to refine personal 3D printing to the point of commercial viability. In many ways, this has already taken place with plastic-extrusion based systems.

Final Thoughts

The evolution of the 3D hobbyist, as covered in the white paper, will be a product of these developments. Small businesses, while already adopting the technology, will find more and more viable uses for the technology in their businesses. But the area that holds a lot of untapped potential is the ability of personal 3D printing to enhance or augment the other hobbies of millions of people around the world.

It will be quite interesting to see how developed the personal 3D printing market will become in the next five years. Personally, I believe this segment could grow to represent as much as 15 percent of the whole additive manufacturing and 3D printing market by 2017. Of course, plenty of new developments could impact this prediction along the way.

Want to know more about Photizo’s view on personal 3D printing? Visit http://photizogroup.com/market-intelligence/3d-printing/ to download our Personal 3D Printing: 5 Year Outlook white paper. It’s free!

Want a chance to win a personal 3D printer or other great prizes? Take part in our personal 3D printing primary research study

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