3d_printer

When the 3D printing market is discussed in the media phrases like “third industrial revolution” and “revolutionary” are bandied about excitedly. Last week Strategy Analytics put its stake in the ground to try and quantify these superlatives, predicting in its new ‘Home 3D Printers: Market Opportunities and Obstacles’ report that the size of the consumer 3D printing market would hit $10 billion by 2024 and then $70 billion by 2030.

It’s a sort of exciting, but sort of not, prediction. Strategy sees the potential for a 3D printer to be in 50 percent of American households by 2030 – a means by which we could make everything from toys to tools ourselves – and would make it marginally more visible in 16 years than gaming consoles and DVRs are now.

Taking Strategy’s prediction at its word, it would mark an undeniably staggering three decades of growth, considering just 1,320 3D printers were sold in 2001 in total. If it came to fruition, the escalation between a $10 billion market in 2024 and $70 billion in 2030 would represent exponential market growth doubling on itself every two years.

The 3D printing space has more cool stories per square inch than most: researchers from NASA and Stanford University have teamed up to try and 3D print cell clusters that can recreate biomaterials like bone and wood, a man rewired a 3D printer into an undefeatable air hockey-playing robot, and so on.

But market analysts in the immediate term have started to look beyond wow factor. With the share prices of major players like 3D Systems and Stratasys trending steadily downwards in 2014, the $70 billion prediction could be just as affirming to current 3D printing market skeptics as its evangelists. The current smartphone market is set to be worth almost four times as much by 2015. Hitting $70 billion by 2030 would make the 3D printer less valuable than both the desktop and laptop computer markets are now.

Strategy Analytics posit in their report that the industry will not grow as fast as people in expect in the next few years, because the technology is complicated and the average person wouldn’t know what to do with it if they did. Which is common sense. Making 3D printing more accessible in the long run and dealing with the thorny issue of copyright, are the largest barriers between the current situation and the exponential growth within reach of the market.

3D printers are getting cheaper, better and easier to use. The revolution is coming, but as Strategy’s report says, the tipping point won’t be for a while. Speculation about whether 3D manufacturing will end up as the microwave or the oven, an undeniably useful appliance or the means by which we do everything, isn’t going away, we’re just going to have to wait a while for the answers.

[Image via Thinkstock]