3D Printing Will Be A Huge Market By 2018, Says Gartner

3D printing provides manufacturers with the ability to compete by creating, and the opportunity to turn product development into a core strength. According to the prestigious technology consulting firm Gartner, the 3D printing market will grow to $13.4B by 2018, Forbes reports.

Gartner is forecasting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 106.6% in worldwide unit shipments of 3D printers from 2012 to 2018, and revenue growth of 87.7% for the forecast period.

Gartner Research Vice President Pete Basiliere provided this and other 3D printing business and technology insights at the Gartner webinar “Why You Must Invest in 3D Printing Now.”

Creating Material Objects from Software Specifications

3D printed industrial part3D printing, also indicated as additive manufacturing, permits creating three-dimensional objects from software specifications of shapes and materials. In 3D printing, primarily additive processes are used, in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. 3D printed objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot, often competitively priced and affordable to small companies and individuals.

The open source projects [email protected] and RepRap develop entry-level 3D printers for personal use. RepRap, which also claims the ability to print its own parts (you can 3D print a RepRap with another RepRap), aims to bring 3D printing to everyone. The Thingiverse website allows users to post 3D files for anyone to print, allowing for decreased transaction cost of sharing 3D files.

Personal 3D printing has been compared to the beginnings of the personal computing industry in the 1980s, and 3D printing enthusiasts envision an explosive growth of the sector similar to the growth of the Internet in the 1990s.

Emailing Material Objects and Industrial Parts

Professional 3D printers can produce a very wide range of material objects and industrial parts from software specs, at comparatively low manufacturing costs and, of course, no shipping costs. Recently Made In Space, a California-based company contracted by NASA for their zero-gravity 3D printing technology, “emailed” hardware to the International Space Station. They designed a ratcheting socket wrench and emailed the specs to the astronauts on the Space Station, who immediately “fabbed” it with a 3D printer.

Also read: Believe It or Not, NASA Emailed a Wrench into Space

This is one of the many examples of 3D printing’s democratization of aerospace and defense manufacturing, an industry with high quality and compliance requirements. It’s clear that more 3D printers will eventually be commonly used for maintenance, repair, and overhaul of aerospace and defense assets.

In the webinar, Basiliere provided examples of how 3D printing is democratizing manufacturing that accentuated time-to-market and the opportunity to compete by creating products faster than competitors. He stressed the need for investing in training and development of teams working with 3D printing, the need on the part of enterprises to continually stay current with 3D printing technologies, and the potential of 3D printing to manage product life cycles.

Gartner Forecast for 3D Printing

Gartner, Inc. is an American information technology research and advisory firm providing technology related insight to IT leaders in government agencies, high-tech and telecom enterprises, professional services firms, and technology investors.

Images from Gartner and Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.