DESPITE THE HYPE, it could be up to 10 years until 3D printing sees mainstream adoption, analyst outfit Gartner has claimed.
Gartner's Hype Cycle for 3D Printing 2014 report said that although around 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, priced from just a few hundred pounds, this price is "too high for mainstream consumers at this time".
"3D printing is evolving rapidly, although many technologies are still five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption," Gartner said in its report. "Consumer adoption will be outpaced by business and medical applications that have more compelling use cases in the short term."
Gartner's study is based on conversations about 3D printing with organisations ranging from technology providers to end-users, government agencies, educational institutions and investment firms. From its research it said that it identified two themes.
The first theme was that the enterprise 3D printing market is very different from the consumer market.
"It's true that at this early stage there are some similarities between them as organisations are beginning to employ 'consumer' devices in order to learn about 3D printing's potential benefits with minimal risk and capital investment," explained the analyst firm. "Fundamentally, however, the two markets are driven by different uses and requirements and must be evaluated separately."
The second theme was that 3D printing is not one technology but several different ones. According to Gartner, the hype around 3D printing disguises the reality that the technology involves a complex ecosystem of software, hardware and materials, which are not as simple to use as "hitting print" on a paper printer.
Below is a graph of Gartner's findings.
The several different technologies each have pros and cons, and printers work with varying build sizes and materials, the firm added.
However, the analyst company had some advice for executives who want to understand the potential of 3D printing. It said users must determine the material, performance and quality requirements of the finished items and determine the best 3D printing technology, as well as select the right 3D printer for them. µ