Market for Personal Manufacturing

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Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman:

"Hard market data about consumer and industry use of personal manufacturing technologies is scarce.

The growth of personal manufacturing technologies for everyday consumer use is driven by a small but growing worldwide community of “power users,” self-selected highly skilled enthusiasts.

Online communities of personal fabrication enthusiasts mingle on sites such as Make and swap designs on Google’s 3D Warehouse and Shapeway’s online marketplace."

There’s no market research firm that tracks consumer machine sales, nor the number of installed machines, nor what types of services and products the machines are being used to provide.

We have slightly better data about personal manufacturing technologies in the industrial space, but again, it’s incomplete for several reasons.

The commercial 3D printer space offers the most solid market research data thanks to the meticulous research conducted by Terry Wohlers and compiled in the annual Wohlers Report, the leading market research publication for the 3D print industry. The Wohlers Report tracks sales, applications and other news of 3D printing service providers and machine makers.

The industries that most commonly request 3D manufacturing services are consumer products/electronics, cars, the medical profession and companies that make industrial and business machines. The 3D printed objects most commonly requested by these industries are functional models, machine parts, visual aids and patterns for prototype tooling.

The Wohlers Report data suggests that consumer companies, the auto industry, and specialized parts companies could someday provide a foundation for a new manufacturing ecosystem made up of 3D printing services providers that specialize in rapid prototyping and on-the-fly machine part production services.

In terms of machine sales, commercial activity and services revenue, the 3D printing marketplace still belongs to industrial-scale, not personal-scale machines.

Wohlers’ market data offers hints that this may be changing.

In 2009, the biggest companies that made and sold 3D printers together earned a total of about $312 million in machine sales.

Market demand, however, may be shifting towards low-end 3D commercial printers. Last year, revenue across all reporting 3D printer companies indicated that 3D printer sales experienced their first-ever decline, dropping 13% from the year before.9 In the same timeframe, however, the total *number* of 3D printers sold increased by almost 20%, suggesting that while total sales revenue earned by 3D printer-makers declined, the number of units sold of low-cost 3D printers increased significantly. Wohlers’ data could suggest that 3D printers are on their way to becoming a commodity item, like laptops and other computing hardware.

It’s possible that as market demand increases for smaller, cheaper industrial 3D printers and the cost of these printers continues to drop, machine manufacturers will sell higher volumes of lower-cost printers to compensate for shrinking profit margins.

Recently, a leading home-scale 3D printer company, Bits from Bytes, was acquired by 3D Systems, an established industrial 3D printer manufacturer." (

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