It was Paul Brody, Vice President and Global Industry Leader of Electronics at IBM, that noticed that Thingiverse is experiencing exponential growth. It’s good that Brody notices these things, but it’s not his sole job to make predictions about such observations. No, that’s the job of Pete Basiliere. Basiliere is a research director at Gartner, the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, and he recently wrote a report called “How 3D Printing Disrupts Business and Creates New Opportunities.”
Basiliere points out that businesses of any size can already afford 3D printers, and that this has created an environment of increased productivity across all major industries. He relates, “The hype leads many people to think the technology is some years away when it is available now and is affordable to most enterprises.” What’s most intriguing about his assessment is the prediction that enterprise-level 3D printers — think multimaterial Connex and full color ZCorp machines — will be in the $2,000 range by 2016. That may sound astonishing considering that that’s about what a MakerBot Replicator 2 costs today, but it’s probably a pretty accurate estimate. Prices have only been falling as quality has been improving. Since 3D printers can produce many of their own components, their increasing numbers fully support the trend of their increasing numbers.
Basiliere also sees 3D printing kiosks and stores in the very near future, but it’s entirely possible that the technology becomes so ubiquitous so quickly that they won’t be necessary. There are already several successful online 3D print services, such as Shapeways, i.materialise, and Ponoko, and there’s also the makexyz service that matches 3D print jobs to local printers. If you need an object sooner than same-day, you should probably just buy a printer.
3D printing is having major impacts today on prototyping, engineering, product development, tooling, medical implants, architectural design, aeronautics, and bioprinting. Tomorrow holds so much more, especially in regards to end-product consumer goods. There exist endless possibilities with current home 3D printers; if you don’t believe me go browse Thingiverse. I can hardly imagine what will happen when those thousands of users have multimaterial printers. If you’d like to pay $195 for the full report, you can do so here, but I’ll leave you with this concise quote from Basiliere: “We see 3D printing as a tool for empowerment, already enabling life-changing parts and products to be built in struggling countries, helping rebuild crisis-hit areas and leading to the democratization of manufacturing.”