THE GLOBAL 3D PRINTING INDUSTRY will be worth $7.5bn (£4.42bn) in just four years, research firm Futuresource Consulting has predicted, as additive manufacturing moves beyond the world of rapid prototyping and towards consumer adoption.
As 3D printing becomes a more widely-recognised technology by the day and gains a more prominent position in industry, people are beginning to realise the technology is capable of much more than resolving first-world problems, such as fancy custom kitchen utensils or lamp shades.
"3D printing has the potential to disrupt so many aspects of the current imaging and output ecosystem," said Futuresource Consulting head of print and imaging Matt Marshall. "From physical supply chain intermediaries to retail outlets serving the growing consumer boom for 3D object production, right through to vertical sectors such as medical and aviation, where 3D production is already registering a massive impact."
Futuresource Consulting believes the "skyrocket" in 3D printing is due to the masses beginning to understand how 3D printing has the potential to revolutionise manufacturing by creating sophisticated products without the need for labour-intensive factories. An example of this is the idea of larger 3D printers, which can build complex parts for vehicles. For instance, Airbus recently integrated 3D printing technology to make titanium parts for planes and ultimately aims to produce full scale aeroplanes from the ground up.
"As a result, we're seeing a multitude of machine manufacturers, scanner manufacturers, designers, content owners, retailers, assembly plants, [intellectual property] authorities and innovators, all exploring the possibilities and assessing whether 3D printing will complement or compete with traditional manufacturing," added Marshall.
The coming years are set to be pivotal, with Futuresource forecasting that the global 3D printing industry will be worth about $7.5bn, or £4.42bn by 2018.
"With mainstream imaging players such as Hewlett Packard, Ricoh and Samsung expected to enter the market in the near future, the category continues to exhibit its dynamism with huge growth in acquisition expected - growing from a meagre 78,000 unit sales globally in 2013 to over one million units in 2018 there is massive revenue potential for participants throughout the 3D printing ecosystem," Futuresource said.
However, there are always going to be both good and bad sides to any technological innovation that hits the mainstream. Some industry watchers predict that wide-scale rollout of the technology could decimate the cargo industry, as the need for long distance transportion would be greatly reduced.
There are also concerns that 3D printing could complicate the rules involved with copyright infringement, as it opens the ability for anyone to print a product by downloading the CAD design templates.
Earlier this month, it was announced that BMW is offering workers at its Munich car plant 3D printed prosthetic "super thumbs" to reduce stress on their joints.
The thumbs, which are made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), are custom made by scanning each worker's hand with a mobile hand scanner and then 3D printing the result layer by layer, producing a perfect second skin that combines safety and comfort. µ