3D printing five years away from becoming mainstream tech

Gartner claims the technology is still some years away from becoming widely adopted

3D printing won't become mainstream for another five years at least because it's just too expensive for organisations and consumers at the moment, Gartner claims. 

Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner, said: "Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 startups 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."

Gartner spoke to organisations including those in the public and private sector and end users to determine the future of printing.

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Basiliere said the enterprise and consumer markets are very different and although organisations are starting to adopt consumer devices to keep costs down, the two markets are driven by very different needs and this is delaying the adoption.

Additionally, he also explained how 3D printing needs to be aligned and standardised, because at the moment there are seven technologies that can be used to print in 3D.

Organisations must think about the end product when deciding which method to use befor taking the jump into 3D printing.

Basiliere advised: "First, determine the material, performance and quality requirements of the finished items first; second, determine the best 3D printing technology; and third, select the right 3D printer."

He said the timeline of adoption would first see enterprises take up the medium as they come to accept and use 3D software, 3D scanners and 3D printers. The first applications would be in the medical sector, producing 3D limbs and implants in around two to five years.

The applications furthest away from adoption - around ten years Gartner predicts - will be creating large 3D structures and installing the equipment in schools. The reason behind the education sector being the last sector to implement 3D technology is because it's just too expensive, the research company said.

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