3D printer shipments will total 455,772 units in 2016, a 108 percent increase over the 219,168 units shipped worldwide last year, according to technology research firm Gartner. In 2020, that figure is expected to reach more than 6.7 million units.
Shipments of enterprise-grade 3D printers will grow 44 percent this year, as manufacturers embrace their prototyping potential and explore how to use the technology for producing parts in an as-needed basis. By 2020, a majority of discrete manufacturers (65 percent) are predicted to use 3D printers to produce components used in products they sell or service, said Gartner.
"Aircraft and aerospace manufacturers have been taking this approach for years, using 3D printers to produce low-volume parts and small lots of parts with complex designs," said Gartner research vice president Pete Basiliere, in a statement. "Military organizations, whose equipment often has very long lives, are working with defense contractors to evaluate 3D printing of replacement and modified components on shore and at sea."
On the consumer side, dropping prices are making it easier for schools and some businesses to acquire a unit or two.
"The primary market driver for consumer 3D printers costing under $2,500 is the acquisition of low-cost devices by educational institutions and enterprise engineering, marketing and creative departments," observed Basiliere. "3D printers are being utilized for several applications and subjects by students in secondary and postsecondary schools where the use of 3D printers can prepare students for many career paths, such as engineering, manufacturing, aerospace and robotics."
The 3D printing market is also attracting the attention of venture capitalists.
Last month, Redwood City, Calif.-based Carbon 3D Inc. announced it had raised $81 million from GE Ventures, BMW, Nikon and JSR, bringing the additive manufacturing startup's total haul to $222 million. Carbon's technology makes it possible to produce objects with surface finishes and mechanical properties that rival injection-molded plastics.
This spring, Hewlett Packard announced its new HP Tech Venture Group, focused on the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, immersive computing, and of course, 3D printing. The company also unveiled its commercial 3D printing product line, dubbed the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution. Two models were introduced, the HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 Printer for businesses with prototyping needs and the 4200 for prototyping and short-run manufacturing.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.