“3D printing offers design flexibility and rapid implementation, but development needs remain in materials performance and printer throughput,” said Anthony Vicari, a research associate at Lux Research and the lead author of the report, “Building the future: assessing 3D printing’s opportunities and challenges."

Over the longer term, Vicari said 3D printing has the potential to reshape the manufacturing ecosystem, but it will have the most impact in the near term for products that are made in small volumes, require high customization, and are more cost-tolerant, he noted.

By creating market model for 3D printing parts, materials, and equipment, Lux predicted that:

3D printable material will fall in cost. The actual amount of 3D printable material sold will increase at the same 18% rate as the overall market – from 880 tons in 2012 to 9,700 tons in 2025. However, the total market value for materials will grow at a lower rate (rougly 11% ) from US$142 million in 2012 to US$579 million in 2025 – as the entry of new suppliers drastically reduces current markups.

Small volume production will zoom, according to Lux Research. While 3D printing is used largely for prototyping today, small-volume manufacturing is expected to expand from a niche market of just US$1 million in 2012 to US$1.1 billion in 2025, led by aerospace engines and automotive components.

The medical market is set to increate. As 3D scanning technologies, printers, and materials fall in price, there will be rapid and widespread adoption for medical applications. The market – still in its infancy and worth a mere US$11 million in 2012 – will grow to US$1.9 billion in 2025.

The consumer market will remain a niche. Consumer applications attract hobbyists and artists, but despite the hype, 3D printed consumer goods were only a US$17 million market in 2012, led by US$10 million from custom jewellery. This market will grow to US$894 million in 2025, but remain small relative to industrial uses.