I co-authored one of Gartner’s recent predictions, that “A compelling consumer application will surface by 2016, driving additional 3D printer market growth.” The idea of simply experiencing the technology and conceiving ways to use it will mainly drive makers and hobbyists to buy 3D printers, not the average consumer. Something much more is needed to drive consumer 3D printer purchases. We expect that whatever this application is, it will be one that enables a completely personalized, quality item that consumers cannot purchase in stores unless they visit a true craftsman to have the item made by hand.
To date the consumer 3D printing market has been held back in part because there is no compelling use — something that the consumer can only acquire by producing it on a 3D printer at home. This is not to say that no consumer-focused applications exist for 3D printing, far from it. Today, consumers are using 3D printers to make truly personalized and unique toys and gifts, jewelry and avatars, school projects and hobby items.
We expected a compelling consumer application — something that can only be created at home on a 3D printer — would hit the scene by 2016. Our thinking was that this application, which would be the most compelling use case yet for consumer 3D printing, would arise from work done by makers and other enthusiasts who push the envelope of consumer 3D printing uses and be enabled by manufacturers who develop “plug-and-print” devices.
Our Forecast: 3D Printer Shipments, Worldwide, 2013 considered this prediction, among several other market drivers and inhibitors, when we projected that consumer market printer shipments would rise 123.3% from 2015 to 2016 and by 149.3% from 2016 to 2017:
Figure 1. 3D Printer Shipments Worldwide (printers with less than US$100,000 list price)
Source: Gartner (October 2013)
Well, consumer goods companies are not going to wait for makers and enthusiasts to drive the market.
3D Systems and Hasbro announced today that they have agreed to “co-venture and mainstream 3D printing play experiences for children.” The companies plan to introduce “innovative play printers and platforms later this year” that will result in “innovative play and co-creation experiences at home and online.”
Hasbro is not the first toy maker in the market, arguably MakieLab is. The difference now is that while MakieLab is a small company among the toy titans, Hasbro is one of those titans. As such, Hasbro has consumer channels that enable it to command retail shelf space and the marketing prowess to drive consumer awareness of its 3D print offerings.
I believe that, absent a compelling consumer application, the best use for a 3D printer at home is to complement a child’s education. Sure, 3D printed gifts and other items can be made. But 3D printers can be used in conjunction with a wide range of school projects (replacing Plaster-of-Paris maps and masks), arts programs (as a new medium that combined analog and digital) and engineering design courses at the secondary and post-secondary grade levels.
In the meantime, the presence of Hasbro will drive other consumer goods companies to ramp up their 3D print offerings, driving increased printer shipments worldwide. Maybe I need to rethink the prediction as coming about not in 2016 but in 2015.