3D Printing Community Survey Results

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. 
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