Consumer adoption of 3D printing will take between five and ten years, according to technology analysts.
Over the next two to five years, there will be greater adoption of enterprise 3D printing, according to a new report from Gartner, nurtured in part by the continued acceptance and use of 3D print creation software, 3D scanners and 3D printing service bureaus.
But while the hype around the technology is causing a rapid evoltuion, many technologies are still five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption and consumer adoption will be outpaced by business and medical applications that have more compelling uses in the short term, the firm says.
"Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption," said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner.
"Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 start-ups worldwide are developing and selling consumer-oriented 3D printers, priced from just a few hundred dollars. However, even this price is too high for mainstream consumers at this time, despite broad awareness of the technology and considerable media interest."
A key barrier to the technology’s widespread adoption is the considerable differences between the enterprise 3D printing market and the consumer market, with each driven by different uses and requirements.
The technology is also not a homogenous whole, as suggested by much press of the press coverage, but actually a catch-all term for a number of different additive manufacturing processes such as fused deposition modelling, selective laser sintering and stereolithography.
"Hype around home use obfuscates the reality that 3D printing involves a complex ecosystem of software, hardware and materials whose use is not as simple to use as 'hitting print' on a paper printer," said Basiliere.
Some technologies are maturing faster than others and will be widely available in just a few years, according to Gartner – 3D printing for prototyping already in general use and medical applications will begin to become mainstream in the next two to three years.
"At around this time, 3D printing of medical devices will offer exciting, life-altering benefits that will result in global use of 3D printing technology for prosthetics and implants," added Mr. Basiliere.
But other technologies such as macro 3D printing of large structures are more than 10 years away from mainstream adoption.
And classroom 3D printing is also at least a decade away as adoption of new technology in schools is always expensive and difficult to implement, according to Gartner, especially considered in relation to the explosion of other educational technology competing for attention in the classroom.