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Enough of the hype - Gartner reveals the latest predictions for 3D printing.

It was over a year ago when we first discussed Gartner’s “Hype Curve for emerging technologies” report and looked at the position of 3D printing on their infamous life cycle curve.

At the time we queried how “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?” In the report the only differentiation made within the technology was between 3D bio printing, 3D scanners, consumer 3D printing and enterprise 3D printing which were highlighted at different stages along the pathway.

A new report has now been published based purely on 3D printing. By contrast, this time Gartner has identified 21 different subsections of the technology and it is fascinating to see that some of the predictions made in the last report are becoming reality.3D Printing Hype Cycle predictions

In a nutshell, the industry continues to evolve at a phenomenal pace although many 3D technologies are still 5-10 years away from the plateau where mainstream adoption is commonplace.

The report highlights that the enterprise 3D printing market is a very different one to the consumer market and should be treated as such. In the report, it highlights that the public, although very aware of the capabilities of home 3D printers, are finding the costs still too high to justify.

Hence, consumer 3D printing is positioned just over the pinnacle of the ‘Peak’ and is now on it’s way into the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ with a prediction of 5-10 years before reaching mass adoption. This is the period of time when interest begins to wane and companies within the sector are either able to establish themselves and climb into the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, or fail.

In order for this to happen, costs will need to come down even further than they have currently, to make the price point for home printers more acceptable. In the last report, Gartner predicted that 3D printers would not become commonplace in households until at least 2019, which seems realistic at this point.

By contrast, enterprise 3D printing is expected to reach the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ within the next 2-5 years, having already come through the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’. Consumers appear very happy to buy 3D printed items from third parties who have made the products for them and have readily established this as a growing market.

The other area brought to our attention in this report is the Medical sector. “3DP is already in mainstream use to produce medical items that need to be tailored to individuals, such as hearing aids and dental devices” states Pete Basiliere, Gartner’s Research Director. Similarly, routine use of 3D printing for hip and knee replacements along with other internal and external medical devices, despite only being at the ‘Peak’, is predicted to be a mere 2-5 years away from market maturity. Given this is a $15 billion industry, companies will do everything, I am sure, to get through the ‘Trough’ as quickly as possible and onto a more sustainable footing.

We also notice 3D bio printing has been split and is found in 2 areas on the Hype Curve; one focuses on producing living tissues for human transplant, and the other on life science research and development. Both of these areas are currently on the incline in the ‘innovation trigger’ with a 5-10 year prediction and are worth keeping an eye on. We know tissue cells, proteins, DNA and drugs have all been created by 3D printers and are very much in the development stage. Once the initial hurdles have been overcome, this technology looks set to surge forwards due to the huge implications for modern science.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the addition of 3D printing of consumable products to the Hype Cycle along with macro 3D printing and classroom 3D printing. All have considerable interest to date but have current issues that may keep them from developing as quickly as some of the other 3D technologies.

And so…our 3D future continues to gallop along at a rate of knots. It’s not surprising to see that some of the 3D sectors have advanced more quickly than others; prototyping was always the 3D printing’s brainchild, but it is rewarding to see the opportunities that 3D printing has brought to the medical world and the difference this has made to human quality of life. Whether this has been driven by a desire for humanitarian development or simply commercial hunger, we cannot knock the impact 3D printing is having on our society. To what end we can only speculate but there is no doubt at this moment in time, 3D printing is here to stay!

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