1. Consumer Market Being Beaten Up
At the consumer electronics show, there was an endless sea of companies offering inexpensive consumer models, each looking identical to the next. It appears they may be late to the party. 2015 marked the end of the 3D printing consumer market hype cycle with Stratasys (the acquirer of MakerBot) taking massive write-offs and 3D Systems shutting down its entire consumer unit in December. With prospects dimming for the short-term consumer market, attention will quickly turn toward 3D printing’s area of greatest promise — industrial applications. Consumer marketing needed to back up the “cool” with substance.
2. Pushing The Limits Of Technology
While GE and Ford have touted their rapid progress with 3D printing, many others are achieving some incredible accomplishments behind closed doors. Look for exciting announcements about exotic new 3D printing materials such as glass and graphene and 3D printed objects that shatter the previous limitations on shape and size. These “big area” 3D printing machines hold the promise of manufacturing an entire airplane wing structure or blades for massive wind turbines in a single print. Low labor cost, easy prediction of output and portability in manufacturing.
3. Outsourced 3D Printing Gains Share
Most internal design shops have access to an in-house “pro-sumer” 3D printer. But despite advances in the technology, these printers remain difficult to use, often result in print errors, and are subject to traffic jams when everyone wants to print something at the same time. As the speed and sophistication of external providers has increased dramatically, with some now guaranteeing 24-hour production/delivery, many engineers and designers are ditching their internal printers in favor of a external service providers. These “service bureaus” will be in greater demand and have greater sophisitication.
4. Virtual Inventory Becomes Real
While some still look upon 3D printing as a niche technology, no one doubts how aggressively companies are pursuing cost savings, such as reducing expensive and wasteful physical inventories. Shifting physical inventory to virtual inventory, which allows you to generate parts on-demand when and where you need them, is shaping up to be a major part of the solution. This will decrease costs, warehouse space and dependance on vendors.