3D Printing Community Survey Results

By on June 6th, 2012 in Event


Some time ago we directed Fabbaloo readers to an academic survey of the 3D printing community sponsored by the P2P Foundation. Now, the results are available, giving us a first real peek into the world of 3D printing.  
What were the results? There were many results, but here’s the interesting findings, as we saw it. 
Unsurprisingly, the “average” respondent was a 35.5 year old North American or European male. Very few respondents (12%) came from other areas, with less than one percent from Africa. Less than seven percent were female. The survey found that the mean age “is somewhat higher than in open source software communities”. Over sixty percent were members of a hackerspace or fab lab. 
The vast majority of respondents got into 3D printing in 2008 and later, when RepRap’s first projects came to fruition. The survey identified the five most common uses for 3D printing: 
  • Functional models (14.2%)
  • Artistic items (13.8%)
  • Spare parts to devices (13.1%)
  • For research/educational purposes (12.6%)
  • Direct part production (11.1%)
We’re surprised to see Art over Direct Production, but perhaps fewer industrial users responded. 
One of the questions we were interested in was, Which companies/projects made the most popular 3D printers?
  • RepRap (26.0% of votes)
  • MakerBot (17.7%)
  • Objet (9.4%)
  • ZCorp (9.0%)
  • 3D Systems (8.3%)
  • Stratsys (7.8%)
  • EOS (7.2%)
  • Dimension (5.2%)
  • BFB (4.7%)
  • Ultimaker (4.7%)
This we find quite fascinating. It suggests that most readers are hobbyists – but if that is the case, it seems that some could have access to high-powered commercial units, too. 
Which 3D print services do you use? 
  • None (43.9% of votes)
  • Shapeways (31.8%)
  • Ponoko (9.3%)
  • i.Materialise (7.3%)
  • Sculpteo (4.8%)
  • RedEye (2.8%)
Two things surprised us here. First, the fact that almost half of the 3D printing community has never used ANY 3D print service! The survey did a cross tabulation and determined that end users were far less likely to use 3D print services than any other group. 
Secondly, the invisibility of RedEye surprised us. We personally visited RedEye and observed huge numbers of equipment humming along, producing who-knows-what all day long. Perhaps this implies the RedEye industrial community was not addressed by the survey?
The question we were most interested in: “What is the most wanted feature you are waiting for to develop further or to emerge?” 
  • Object quality (18.0% of votes)
  • Speed (12.9%)
  • Cheaper material prices (12.5%)
  • Metal material printing (11.7%)
  • Cheaper printer price (11.5%)
These are very interesting results. People evidently want better objects but ALSO better speed. This is precisely what’s been bothering us. These two properties are incompatible with the most popular 3D printing process: extruded plastic. We wonder how this result may affect manufacturers’ plans. 
The survey also asked respondents to identify bottlenecks hampering the use of 3D printing. No surprises here, but the survey analysts categorized the results into the following major areas:
  • Print materials and object quality
  • Usability and ease of use
  • Software difficulties
  • Public perception and awareness
  • Lack of social cooperation
  • Patent complications
  • Costs of printers and materials
The survey results enabled the analysts to produce a “3D Printing Ecosystem” diagram involving all the major stakeholders and their relationships with each other. We agree with this in principle, although we’d include the public and media as an entity that feeds the End-user category.
There’s much more in the full survey and we encourage you to check it out. We thank the producers of this survey for providing a very comprehensive look at the people of 3D printing in 2012. 

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!


  1. We agree with your comments as there were several sketchy parts, but this survey is the only thing we've seen resembling data and for that alone it's thrilling. Certainly better surveys will emerge, but for now this is what we have. Enjoy!

  2. A noble effort, but ultimately the results should only be used for casual entertainment. In addition to the error-sources acknowledged by the authors, the survey was tainted by so much ambiguity that you can't draw many specific conclusions from the data.

    You fell into one such conundrum trying to interpret the question that was originally phrased, "Which printers (which manufacturers) have you used?" The choices included printers (like Fortus and Dimension) as well as their manufacturers (Stratasys), which invites ambiguity as to how an individual respondent might have made their selections. Hence you can't reliably assess whether Stratsys's share should have been divided among 6th, 8th and 11th+ place as your ranking shows or whether it would have been more accurately in 3rd place as the sum of Stratasys+Dimension+Fortus responses.

    A similar problem occurred in Materials, where the authors offered a choice of "polymer" in addition to 3 materials that could be broadly defined as polymers, again leaving ambiguity as to which selection any particular individual might choose. The authors obviously discovered this particular conundrum while interpreting their data–and they made a best-guess effort to adjust for it.

    Ultimately it's somewhat informative, and definitely interesting. Regardless of whether the sample was representative, and regardless of how they interpreted the questions, we can certainly infer there were between 261 and 358 respondents who gave these particular answers.

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