STAMFORD, CT – Worldwide shipments of 3D printers will reach 217,350 units in 2015, up 101% year-over-year, says Gartner.

3D printer shipments will more than double every year between 2015 and 2018, by which time worldwide shipments are forecast to reach more than 2.3 million, according to the research firm.

"As we noted last year, the 3D printer market is at an inflection point," said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner. "Unit shipment growth rates for 3D printers, which languished in the low single and double digits per year throughout the 30 years since the first 3D printers were invented, are poised to increase dramatically beginning in 2015. As radical as the forecast numbers may seem, bear in mind that even the 2.3 million shipments that we forecast will be sold in 2018 are a small fraction of the total potential market of consumers, businesses and government organizations worldwide."

Material extrusion spending is impacted by the high number of startup and small companies worldwide that are taking advantage of the low barrier to entry to sell consumer 3D printers for less than $500. Whether these startups and small companies have sufficient revenue to cover not only their production and overhead costs but also service, sales, channel development, research and development, and owners' profit remains to be seen.

Gartner predicts end-user spending on material extrusion technology will increase from $789 million in 2015 to around $6.9 billion in 2018. Overall, end-user spending on 3D printers is expected to increase from $1.6 billion in 2015 to around $13.4 billion in 2018, with technologies such as vat photopolymerization and material jetting leading this growth because of expanded acceptability within the consumer and enterprise markets.

"Manufacturers will strive to add features and improve performance in the first few years, rather than reduce the prices of printers," said Basiliere. "Therefore, the ASPs of a few technologies are expected to increase or to gradually decrease in the outer years after an increase in 2014 or 2015. Directed-energy deposition printers are the most highly priced, followed by powder bed fusion printers. The ASPs of material extrusion and vat photopolymerization printers are expected to decrease as more and more players enter the market with offerings in the lower price bands within these two technologies."

Plug and print capability will drive consumer 3D printer market growth beginning in 2015. While the ecosystem remains complex, manufacturers of entry-level material extrusion printers are incorporating relatively simple plug-and-print capability. Features such as locked-in materials, often available only in vendor-specific cartridges as with 2D printers, maximize the likelihood the materials will work well. Automated bed leveling and heated build chambers also facilitate simpler setup and operation, making it easier for the consumer to "hit print" and successfully produce a 3D item. As a result, 10% of the 3D printers costing less than $1,000 will have plug-and-print capability by 2016, says Gartner.

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