Printer sales con­tinue to rise

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - 3D TECHNOLOGY -

In the first quar­ter of 2014, 26,800 3D prin­ters were shipped world­wide, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates from Canalys.

Of th­ese, most were bought by en­ter­prise cus­tomers rang­ing from mi­cro busi­nesses to large or­ga­ni­za­tions. But 46 per­cent were ac­quired by con­sumers, up from 43 per­cent for full-year 2013, re­flect­ing the avail­abil­ity of in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tively priced units.

“To date, the en­ter­prise space has been the fo­cus of 3D print­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Busi­nesses from a range of in­dus­tries have in­vested in the tech­nol­ogy to ex­per­i­ment and test its po­ten­tial, to ex­pe­dite de­sign and pro­to­typ­ing pro­cesses, or to en­able lo­cal cus­tom­ized man­u­fac­tur­ing,” said Canalys se­nior an­a­lyst Tim Shep­herd.

“While en­ter­prise en­gage­ment will con­tinue to grow, it looks to be the con­sumer space that will drive ship­ments in the near fu­ture. We are al­ready see­ing sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of early tech­nol­ogy adopters and hob­by­ists in­vest­ing in rel­a­tively cheap 3D prin­ters. As prices con­tinue to fall, the tech­nol­ogy im­proves and use cases are tested, this trend is set to con­tinue.”

One no­table fac­tor in the grow­ing avail­abil­ity of low-cost 3D prin­ters is crowd­fund­ing.

“The sheer num­ber of ul­tra-low-cost prin­ters, typ­i­cally from in­no­va­tive and as­pir­ing start-up com­pa­nies, which are find­ing in­vest­ment through crowd­fund­ing sites, such as Kick­s­tarter and Indiegogo, is im­pres­sive,” says Shep­herd.

“The of­ten rapid suc­cess of th­ese projects in reach­ing their fund­ing goals shows that crowd­fund­ing sites rep­re­sent a vi­able source of fi­nance in this area and, more im­por­tantly, ver­i­fies real con­sumer in­ter­est lev­els.

“While they are of­ten limited in the size of ob­jects they can print, the ma­te­ri­als they can use and the fin­ish they can pro­vide, af­ford­able prin­ters will con­tinue to drive in­ter­est and adop­tion in the f ledgling con­sumer mar­ket, giv­ing ven­dors an op­por­tu­nity to up­sell down the line.”

Canalys es­ti­mates that 67 per­cent of 3D prin­ters shipped in Q1 2014 were priced, pre-tax, at un­der US$10,000.

“In re­al­ity, there is a good num­ber of ba­sic printer mod­els com­ing to mar­ket at sub-US$1000 price points, and some crowd­fund­ing projects prom­ise subUS$ 500 prices,” says Canalys’ re­search an­a­lyst Joe Kemp­ton.

“As com­pet­i­tive pres­sures in the mar­ket in­crease, var­i­ous tech­nol­ogy patents lapse, and ven­dors are ea­ger to ful­fil in­ter­est and de­mand, fall­ing prices are mak­ing prin­ters more af­ford­able for more con­sumers.

“Th­ese con­sumers are be­ing ad­dressed not just by start-up com­pa­nies but also es­tab­lished ven­dors, such as Strata­sys through its Maker­Bot-branded prod­ucts. We’ve also seen other ef­forts to make 3D print­ing more ac­ces­si­ble, most re­cently from Au­todesk, which is mak­ing both its 3D printer hard­ware and its Spark de­sign soft­ware pack­age open source. Within 10 years, 3D prin­ters will be common house­hold items in de­vel­oped mar­kets, and th­ese de­vel­op­ments are mov­ing us in the right di­rec­tion.”

Mean­while, at the pre­mium end of the mar­ket, in­dus­trial-grade prin­ters cost­ing over US$100,000 con­tinue to make up one per cent of unit ship­ments. Ven­dors tar­get­ing this space sell small num­bers of prin­ters in a year, but with price points for some high-end units at over US$1 mil­lion, it is still pos­si­ble to earn sub­stan­tial rev­enue. And in­creas­ing use of 3D print­ing in the man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try could yet see ship­ments in this area in­crease in com­ing years.

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