This past year was the biggest in 3D printing history with several notable trends.
More 3D printers were sold and more people exposed to 3D printing than ever before in history. Among the avalanche of equipment, services and ideas were several events and trends we felt were notable.
MakerBot completes the transition to fully corporate. Yes, MakerBot sold their operations to Stratasys a couple of years ago, but it was in 2014 that we really noticed they’d fully made the transition to “corporate mode” from their humble DIY beginnings. With the departure of founder Bre Pettis and hiring of a new CEO, the company has definitely taken a different turn that is now visible in almost all aspects.
The explosion of 3D print-related conferences. It seems every week we get a notice of another 3D printing conference taking place somewhere on the globe. There is a lot of interest in the topic, but still few people know much. That’s why there’s such a demand, at least that’s how it’s perceived by the conference-makers.
The Rise of metal 3D printing. This year we saw increased emphasis on printing in metal by the major industrial equipment vendors. It’s now clear that 3D printed production parts will be a big business and all of the majors are pursuing that market, either by enhancing their existing metal printer products or by courting mergers with other companies that produce metal printing gear.
The use of 3D printing by children. More initiatives to engage children in 3D printing occurred in 2014 than ever before. Some companies, like Ultimaker and others, have created explicit programs to deliver 3D printing knowledge to classrooms. This can only lead to powerful outcomes many years from now. However, we did not see a corresponding rise in the availability and number of 3D printers designed specifically for children. Perhaps the technology just isn’t sufficiently easy to use yet.
A 3D printer store on every corner? 2014 saw the opening of many 3D print retail stores in large cities worldwide. Some were independent, some were chains, like iMakr or iGo3D. Regardless, these operations provided a key channel for 3D printing knowledge to reach the unknowing public.
Access to 3D printing increases. Be it through the sheer number of inexpensive 3D printers available, through existing UPS, Staples or Royal Mail outlets, or through locally accessible shared networks of 3D printers like 3D Hubs or MakeXYZ, there has never been greater accessibility to 3D printing technology before.
3D printing in space! A 3D printer designed for microgravity use finally made it to the International Space Station. After testing, the machine was used to build tools on demand. Expect a lot more use of this printer in 2015.
Cloud-based 3D printing services emerge. 3D model ecosystems like MakerBot’s Desktop tool or 3D print management services like 3DPrinterOS all leveraged the cloud to provide 3D printing connectivity to machines and content like never before. Unfortunately, most of these services are closed shops where things can’t easily be shared between them. We’re hoping some standards eventually emerge to make things smoother for users.