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3D Printing - Beyond the Hype?

Jul 15, 2014

The hype cycle is a branded tool created by Gartner, an information technology research and consultancy company.  They believe it describes what happens as a technology goes from conception to maturity to widespread adoption.

The graph identifies five overlapping stages in a technology’s life cycle.

3D Printing on the Hype Curve

Initially there is the ‘Innovation Trigger’ where a technology is conceptualised.

Following on from this comes the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ when the technology is implemented and we hear much about both successes and failures. Media hype and expectations can be huge at this point.

Consequently, Gartner predicts a ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ will follow when flaws lead to disappointment (or is it just a sense of realism?).

As the technology’s potential becomes more broadly understood and realistic we embark along the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’.

The final stage is the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ when the technology becomes widely implemented and its applications within the marketplace are more stable.

Gartner predicts the length of time it will take each technology from its place currently on the Hype Curve, to reaches the final stage of maturity on the Plateau of Productivity. Of course some technologies never make it this far – but what about 3D printing? Where is it heading?

The media has certainly given 3D printing plenty of hype over the last few years! We have been led to believe that the sky’s the limit and it certainly can appear to be so.

We hear that in 2015 there will be a 3D printed house on the moon; we can 3D print chocolate; replicas of human faces are being 3D printed; the development of 3D printing from human cells to form kidneys, livers and even a heart is well underway; along with the ever present debate of 3D printing guns and weaponry. It all sounds incredible and we are sure everyone has a view however can we really be confident that we know all the facts or is it possible we only hear one side of a story?

Gartner tells us that 3D printing has been steadily climbing the peak of ‘Inflated Expectations’ over the past few years and is currently sitting at the tip of the crescent. However we are concerned that the applications of 3D printing are so diverse that it surely cannot be possible to pin it down to just one point on the curve – can it?

Apparently the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ beckons. According to Gartner, 3D printing should follow the hype curve pathway, however it’s not all downhill from here. Although there has been much criticism, the good news is that expectations are now becoming a lot more realistic. Lessons are being learned and along with newfound knowledge of how the technology operates we are fast approaching reaching the point where 3D printing will have reached the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ and with it the ability to grow and mature as a stable technology for the future.

Currently 3D printing is all about being self-sufficient; making things personal and individual and yet the great debate continues…. To some this is simply playing with toys, however can we really dismiss the possibility to potential life changing medical advancements, or 3D printing at a molecular level, or quite simply the ability for 3D printing to be available to all? Isn’t that worth getting excited over?

Some think the plateau may be a mere five years away. Here in the offices at Plunkett Associates we have had many a debate over this article with differing opinions and views!

We all agree, however, that 3D printing definitely has a future – how big and how fast it will evolve we will have to wait and see. However we are excited! New applications allow us to provide new solutions – something we will always be interested in!

Read more about 3D Printing on our Processes Pages.


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