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3D printing moves from prototypes to production

Lucas Mearian | May 2, 2014
As market quadruples to US$12B in 10 years, it'll increasingly be used to make complex parts in a variety of industries, from manufacturing to electronics.

Based on technical and business scores, only four printer companies currently dominate the 3D "innovation sector," according to Vicari. They are: 3D Systems, Stratasys, EOS and Arcam. The four hold a combined 31% printer market share.

"Of these, Arcam is distinguished by its open materials supply model," Vicari said.

One change that's expected to spur growth involves a number of expiring patents. In 2006, expiration of several early patent families enabled the emergence of lower-cost desktop printers from companies like Makerbot, as well as consumer-facing 3D printer service providers such as Shapeways.

But, "an even bigger shift is coming" as patents on other key 3D printing technologies start to expire over the next three years, lowering costs for those methods and widening the range of capabilities available to users.

For example, patents on selective laser sintering (SLS), along with the process for removing support material on fused deposition modeling and photopolymer inkjet printing all expire this year. In 2015, the patent for SLS printing of filled composites also expires.


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