Worldwide 3D printing shipments to double over the next year

'Plug and print' touted as the future

Analyst firm Gartner has predicted that shipments of 3D printers will double every year to reach 2.3 million in 2018.

That may sound like a lot of zeroes, but the figure is just a small fraction of the total potential market of consumers, businesses and government organisations worldwide, according to Gartner research vice president Peter Basilere.

He said: "As we noted last year, the 3D printer market is at an inflection point. Unit shipment growth rates for 3D printers, which languished in the low single and double digits per year throughout the 30 years since the first 3D printers were invented, are poised to increase dramatically beginning in 2015.

"As radical as the forecast numbers may seem, bear in mind that even the 2.3 million shipments that we forecast will be sold in 2018 are a small fraction of the total potential market of consumers, businesses and government organisations worldwide."

Socket to 'em

According to Gartner, plug and print capability will help drive the market from 2015 onwards, with features such as locked-in materials, automated bed levelling and heated build chambers making it easier for consumers to 3D print items without fuss.

Gartner recently said that 3D printing was not quite there for consumers, highlighting the cost of both devices and printing materials. It now predicts that the market will take off at that end as prices fall, leading to a greater selection of models in the sub-$1,000 (around £689) price bracket. It reckons improved printer performance and greater worldwide availablity with also help drive adoption.

For businesses, Gartner predicts that businesses will look into 3D printing technologies for prototyping and manufacturing, and will also become more interested as costs of 3D printers falls and more a wider range of more reliable materials becomes available.

Basilere said: "The high material extrusion shipment growth numbers are basically driving the 3D printer forecast. New providers are entering the market, sometimes directly, sometimes through crowdfunding campaigns, on what seems like a daily basis. These providers are leveraging the expiration of early extrusion technology patents to make low-cost, low-priced devices targeted mainly at consumers."