3D printing has received much attention in the press over recent years. Hyped as the technology to bring about a third industrial revolution, 3D printing technologies were in fact invented in the late 80s. Since then they have seen steady, if unspectacular, growth. After 2009, however, changes occurred which have seen the fortunes of the 3D printing world take an abrupt turn for the better, the report says. Manufacturers of 3D printers are reporting a surge in demand, and markets for 3D printing are growing rapidly across a number of application areas as new materials development open up new opportunities.

3D printers cover a raft of technologies, based on a number of different physical mechanisms, the common feature of which is the generation of a three-dimensional physical object from a digital model. The process is additive in nature, as materials are laid down only where needed, and thus results in significantly less materials wastage than traditional manufacturing techniques. Each of the technologies is suitable for use with a different range of materials, which in turn defines the suitable applications of the printer.

Originally used for the rapid production of prototypes for form and fit testing, applications are transitioning towards also functional testing of prototypes under working conditions as well as the manufacture of final products.

Whilst 3D printing of final products is relatively slow compared to traditional manufacturing methods, new, more complex, design avenues are opened up, thereby enabling the economic production of lighter components. The parts are critical to the aerospace and automotive industries, and applications are also emerging in the medical and dental fields, the report continues. 

The home use market for 3D printers, sometimes known as the hobbyist market, will remain relatively small as limitations in terms of the range of materials available will persist for the foreseeable future, and reports of plastic fumes, in particular associated to ABS, will deter many potential users, the report stated.

When significant penetration has occurred into the above markets, 3D printing will lock into the capital expenditure cycles associated to the aerospace and automotive industries, and, as is the case for CNC machines, periodic fluctuations in sales will occur; growth will not be steady and monotonic.

The medical/dental sector has strong growth potential, the report noted. Currently valued at US$141 million, the medical/dental sector is expected grow to US$868 million by 2025, led by dental applications and increasing use for the manufacture of orthopaedic implants. Rapid growth is also expected in the jewellery, design arts, and architectural sectors which will see a combined compound annual growth rate of 20% for the period.

The report discusses each of the technologies and ongoing technological advances, and analyses current and future markets for 3D printing. The market structure is also detailed, and there are profiles of the major players together with insights gained from interviews with a range of companies involved in 3D printing. Eleven major players in 3D printing are profiled, and the report also has interviews with end-user companies who have expressed their view of the market and their needs for the future.The report also includes detailed forecasts for the future of the 3D printing market.

Finally, the 3D market report also details patent publishing trends among the various technologies and application areas, together with publication rates in the academic journals. Chinese universities have been publishing particularly rigorously across the range of 3D printing technologies, although US and European universities are also active and a number of centres of excellence are apparent. This academic activity has not generally translated to intellectual property, although the Fraunhofer institute of Germany remains an exception.

The report is available to buy here.

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