The amount of machinery and maintenance required for the 1980s predecessors to today’s 3-D printers meant that only large industrial facilities could even consider owning one, let alone paying for it. Right now, you can find residential 3-D printers on the market for about $200. Times have changed and the adoption of 3-D printing technology has advanced in much the same way as the personal computer and the smartphone.
According to Wohlers, there were more than a quarter of a million residential and light-commercial 3-D printers worldwide at the beginning of 2016. The forecast for the rest of 2017 sees a possible 1 million total units sold around the world by the end of the year.
Every technology has to start somewhere when it comes to adoption by the masses. DVD players overtook VCRs, smartphones overtook regular cellphones, etc. 3-D printing adoption faces a unique situation in most western homes, it wouldn’t really be replacing anything, it would be a brand new appliance.
This can be a curse or a blessing depending on how an industry analyst might look at it. A curse since individuals won’t already be used to the function provided by the printer or a blessing since it allows people to create things they either don’t have or need to replace. Researchers at the University of Melbourne took a look at how adoption might work and the potential for market disruption and found that while there are going to be issues, 3-D printing will take hold in Western households and classrooms.
How Long Until We See an Adoptive Majority in the U.S.?
There are close to 117 million households in the U.S., right now, about 400,000 of them have a 3-D printer. By the end of the year, that number could shoot up to near 700,000 or even higher if manufacturers offer discounts for holiday shoppers. A 75% increase in adoption within the span of a year is incredible and looking increasingly likely. If 3-D printers follow an adoption curve similar to that of personal computers, 2029 would be the year more houses have a 3-D printer than do not in the U.S. On the other hand, if it follows a curve closer to that of smartphones, we can expect to see half the American market saturated by 2024. It really only takes one year of explosive sales to set off enormous adoption numbers shortly thereafter.
In much the same way apps drove smartphone sales, if a company such as Apple or Google set up a considerable amount of infrastructure to drive 3-D printer file sales, you might be looking into buying one within the next couple of years, if you haven’t already.