At a recent seminar we were able to meet with 3D printing consultant Terry Wohlers. Terry has been a leading 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry consultant and prolific speaker for over 25 years. Each year he publishes the definitive report on the industry, available from his website. We asked his opinion on 3D printing futures:
Fabbaloo: 3D printing is a growth technology, but have you observed differences in interest level in different areas of the world? Where is 3D printing really "hot"?
Terry Wohlers: 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, is capturing the interest of many around the world. All developed regions have embraced it on several levels. According to our research, the countries that are leading in its adoption are the U.S., Germany, China, and Japan, with the U.S. well out in front of everyone else.
It has been interesting to watch the adoption of 3D printing take off in many countries such as Brazil, South Africa, and Turkey. Many years ago, they were slow to accept the technology, but now growth is strong.
Fabbaloo: As you've suggested, there's a growing trend for personal 3D printers. How do you see the personal market evolve vs. the commercial market? Will the personal market ever surpass the commercial market?
Terry Wohlers: It's a little early to know exactly how the personal systems market will unfold. Machines that sell for $700 - $4,000 have developed over the past four years and the market for them has been strong in the past two. It may be that after the "low hanging fruit" disappears, the market will soften. Another scenario is that this market segment is in its infancy and will strengthen, especially as educational institutions adopt them in significant numbers. I expect that this will be the more likely development.
Fabbaloo: You've stated that one of the barriers to consumer adoption of 3D printing is access to 3D content. How could that issue be resolved?
Terry Wohlers: 3D content is indeed the "gating" factor to widespread growth in both the professional and consumer markets. For casual or inexperienced designers, a number of products and services are becoming available. 3DTin and Tinkercad are web-based CAD systems targeted at amateurs. 3DVIA Shape from Dassault and 123D from Autodesk are free CAD software products with interesting capabilities for non-professionals. Meanwhile, a number of websites have developed that offer 3D models that you can download and use. Some of the models can be modified and personalized, to some extent. All of these tools and websites will contribute favorably to the creation of 3D content.
Fabbaloo: HP has sorta-kinda entered the 3D printing space with their partnership with Stratasys. Do you see any other non-3D printing vendors entering the space?
Terry Wohlers: I anticipate that a number of companies, large and small, will enter the business. I would not be surprised if companies such as Apple, Amazon, Epson, FedEx Office, and Google were to somehow get into the 3D printing business. I do not have any insight into these companies, so this is purely speculation on my part. However, these and other corporations will quite possibly consider new business models in 3D printing, if they haven't already.