Over the past year or so, a number of 3D print-related companies have stumbled, and it could be due to a flattening of interest in the technology.
There’s a way to gauge the public interest in 3D printing: Google Trends. The search giant of course holds mountains of statistics on usage, particularly of internet searches. They conveniently provide a way to examine their accumulated data using their Trends tool.
The “trends” show the number of searches on a topic relative to other searches over time. It is thus possible to see a spurt of public interest - and also a decline in public interest.
I decided to see how 3D Printing fared and gained the chart above, which shows the period from 2009 onwards. Don't worry, you're not missing much from prior to that date: the line is pretty much flat. The blue line indicates searches for “3D Printing”, while the tiny flat green line at the bottom represents the relative quantity of searches for “Additive Manufacturing”. As you can see, the world has decided which term to use for our favorite technology.
But we can also see that the blue line more or less flattens out after a huge burst of activity in 2010-2012. Yes, there are some bumps, but it is not growing. This is certainly in line with my observations of companies involved in 3D printing: many “ramped up” in those years, only to find themselves challenged to find more customers in 2014-15.
The red and yellow lines indicate 3D Systems and Stratasys, the two major 3D printing companies in existence. It seems interest in them has dropped considerably since their peak in 2014, coincident with their stock prices.
But what of other 3D printer manufacturers that we usually write about? In this chart, we can see several interesting trends:
The Blue Line (MakerBot): Has dropped significantly since the acquisition by Stratasys, but still draws by far the most searches among the companies selected for this trend analysis. It will be interesting to see how this company fares after the recent release of their vastly improved extruder.
The Green Line (RepRap): Seems to be slowly dropping, perhaps because the growth of somewhat more consumer friendly 3D printers has left the DIY 3D printer community relatively smaller than the total number of participants.
The Purple Line (Cubify): Cubify no longer is in operation, but as one can see, they never gathered nearly the interest of other 3D print operations. Expect this line to disappear in 2016.
The Yellow Line (XYZprinting): They are one of the largest vendors of 3D printers today, if not the largest, and their trend line, though small, shows a steady rise.
The Red Line (Ultimaker): Their trend is very intriguing, as it shows no drop-off, and appears to be trending up, now overtaking RepRap. Could they catch MakerBot?
Remember, though, that trends are not dollars; but interest in a company certainly can help!