3D printing still years away for most consumers -- Gartner

Although the popularity of 3D printing is growing in certain niches, mainstream consumer adoption is five to 10 years away, says research firm Gartner.

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An Autodesk 3D printer. Autodesk

Those of you hoping to print 3D items from the comfort of your home may have a few years to wait.

3D printers and printing have started to catch on, but their use over the short term will focus more on business and medical applications, market researcher Gartner said in a report Tuesday. As such, the widespread use of 3D printing among consumers is at least five and possibly 10 years away, according to the research firm.

3D printing enables you to create an actual three-dimensional object layer by layer with materials such as plastics, metals, or wax. Various manufacturers sell 3D printers, and stories of using 3D printing to help patients in surgery and fashion an entire house have generated excitement about the technology. But obstacles stands in the way before a mass consumer market actually opens up -- one obstacle being the high cost of the printers, according to Gartner.

"Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption," Gartner research vice president Pete Basiliere said in a statement. "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."

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Gartner

Instead, the benefits of 3D printing will gravitate more toward the enterprise market with use of 3D print creation software, 3D scanners, and 3D printing service bureaus, Gartner said. That development is expected to occur over the next two to five years, around the same time that the medical industry takes greater advantage of the technology.

"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," Basiliere said.

3D printing of large structures and 3D printing in the classroom already shows some promise, but widespread adoption in these instances is projected to be more than a decade away, according to Gartner. Such a lengthy time frame is due to the cost and difficulty of implementing the technology, especially with schools that have limited budgets and must choose to spend their money on more critical needs.

Finally, 3D printing presents a more complicated scenario than may be envisioned, another reason why it could be slow to catch on with consumers.

"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," Basiliere said.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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