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Why you'll never buy a 3D printer

Lucas Mearian | June 29, 2016
The consumer 3D printer market, which has even tried to connect itself to video gaming, still seeks 'killer app'

While 3D printer sales will experience healthy growth over the next four years, consumer machines remain a technology in search of a purpose, according to researcher IDC.

3D printers, materials and services in the U.S. grew by almost 20% in 2015 compared to the year before, representing $2.5 billion market. And 3D printer shipments are expected to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 16% through 2020, according to IDC's U.S. 3D Printer Forecast, 2016-2020.

Revenue from 3D printing hardware alone is expected to grow from $815 million last year to $1.96 billion in 2020. 

The largest technology segment within the 3D printing market is fused filament fabrication or fused deposition modeling (FDM/FFF). Last year, FFF or FDM printers made up 76% of the 3D printers shipped in the U.S.

While the majority of those printers are at the low end of the market, the consumer  segment "has clearly not materialized as many had predicted," IDC said. That's pushing many 3D printer makers to shift toward producing higher-end machines aimed at the education and professional prototyping markets.

Shipments in the very low-end, where 3D printers sell for below $1,000, are still projected to grow more than 12% annually through 2020. But the market remains relatively small.

Where's the killer app?

"I know it is a bit of a cliché, but I believe the 'killer app' that would drive 3D printing in the consumer space has not materialized yet," said Tim Greene, research director for IDC's Hardcopy Solutions. "Already the 3D printer mix in the U.S. has changed over the last 12 to 24 months. While there are still a lot of shipments into the DIY/consumer market, tremendous growth remains in the segments with a more professional and manufacturing orientation.

Simply put, 3D printers have yet to find their spot next to the inkjet printer in the home.

The sub-$1,000 3D printer category is the slowest-growing segment based on the reduced demand for consumer-type 3D printers in the U.S. market, IDC found. Many of the suppliers of lower-priced machines have added features and capabilities to their printers to move up into higher-priced hardware.

Printers in the sub-$1,000 price category are expected to go from just over 49,900 shipments in 2015 to over 90,750 printers in 2020. That's a five-year annual growth rate of 12.7%.

In its report, IDC said it "has never been a big believer" in the consumer 3D printing market.

"This is being borne out somewhat with many of the suppliers in that segment recognizing that the consumer segment has materialized differently than expected. While some suppliers continue to sell very low-end 3D printers at prices below $300, many have recognized that consumer users will not run enough material, or won't buy the materials from their printer manufacturer, to make up for selling printers at such low prices," the report said.

 

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