Currently, 3D printing’s largest applications are for making prototypes, molds, and tooling. Direct production of end use parts, however, is beginning to grow in industries including aerospace, medical, automotive, consumer products, architecture, and electronics. The coming decade will see both growth and disruption in the diverse 3D printing landscape, with the total market for 3D printers, printable materials, and printed parts reaching $12 billion in 2025. This is comprised of $2.0 billion in formulated materials and $3.2 billion in printers, but the highest share will reside in $7.0 billion of part production value, growing at a 21% CAGR from only $684 million in 2013.
While prototypes, and molds and tooling have respectable growth rates, the most robust growth is production parts, growing at a 36% CAGR from $81 million to $3.2 billion over this time period. This will vary significantly across applications. Medical applications – such as surgical tools and orthopedic implants – will take off from $6 million in 2013 to $391 million in 2025, a 42% CAGR, driven by the high value of customization in this market, such as prosthetics and implants that can be readily fit to individual patients or their injuries. Small-volume automotive applications, such as parts for high-end vehicles as well as replacement parts for vehicles no longer in production, will reach the market in 2015, but rise quickly to $695 million by 2025. Aerospace, an early leader in industrial adoption will remain important, but longer product growth cycles won’t keep pace with the slightly later to adopt industries. Aggregated applications also exist in consumer and architectural segments, a list that will no doubt increase as developers target a broad swath of potential applications, each of which may or may not pan out. These include customized sporting goods, on-site military or offshore oil and gas production of replacement parts, direct production of consumer electronic devices by 3D printers, or even manufacturing objects in space using local materials such as moon rocks or asteroids.
Certainly there is opportunity and robust growth to be harvested in the 3D printing value chain, although still not enough to match the hype. Current or prospective market participants should also prepare for on-going flux as the landscape solidifies. While the leading 3D printer companies’ razor/blade model – developed to address prototyping – could inhibit growth, emerging third party material suppliers and equipment manufacturers with more open models are beginning to challenge their dominance. This has been fueled by an onset of patent expiration. In 2006, expiration of several early FFF patent families enabled the emergence of low-cost desktop printers from new suppliers and corresponding popular interest in the technology. In early 2014, U.S. patent 5,597,589, a foundational patent for SLS, expired. This is bound to result in increased competition among industrial SLS printer suppliers to follow as new entrants come to market. Beyond these disruptions to incumbency, traditional design tools are unwieldy and inadequate leaving room for emerging intuitive design tools that will point the way to more efficient part design.
The opportunity in 3D printing is clear, but all value chain participants will need to stay pragmatically nimble to keep pace with the materials, processes, parts and applications on its decade long journey to $12 billion.
Source: Lux Research report “How 3D Printing Adds Up: Emerging Materials, Processes, Applications, and Business Models” — client registration required.