Thursday 18 December 2014

Predictions for the 3D Printing eco-system in 2015

2015 Predictions for the exciting home, consumer and business 3D printing eco-system.

Time to dust off the 3D printed crystal ball and make some predictions for 2015. Here is my view looking forward in the 3D printing industry. 

Tell me what you think? below in comments, over on G+ here or Twitter - @Richrap3D

- 3D Printing -
The Hype is dying down a little, users are moving into the useful phase of 3D printing. Both quality and speed is improving with software and processing tools lagging behind expectations. The 3D printer price war is still on, but to a lesser extent as users can see what you get for ~$200 is not what they really want or need.

New developments, designs and ideas for 3D printing continue to bloom from the open-source community. We may even start to see some early and innovative ways to reward designers and developers that share their work, collaborating with others and the wider maker community.

The gap between ‘professional’ and home / consumer 3D printers will continue to bridge, with users in both sectors and the manufacturers / suppliers.

High end 3D Printing manufacturers will slowly refine their technology reducing price points at the lower (entry level). The market will get more competitive before starting to shake down to a few clear market leaders.

- Materials –
This year we have seen so many more filament suppliers pop up, and many of them have had quite shocking and bad tolerance control (material swings from under 1.55mm to over 2mm, sometimes in less than 1M lengths).

2015 will be the year that users no longer tolerate poor quality – “If it’s crap – send it back”. Tolerances of +/- 0.1mm will be considered ‘standard’ and premium suppliers / manufacturers will be able to hold +/- 0.05mm for most material types. 'Demand good quality materials'

We will see many more materials and ‘value added’ unique formulas that help with the further expansion and creative process of 3D printing.

We should see some actual conductive materials appear (rather than just anti-static / high resistance currently available) that could make printing basic circuits for electronics possible for everyone.

Hopefully we will see a better understanding by the media and users – e.g. -  thermoplastic materials and resins are still just that even when filled with wood, ceramic or metal fibers. It’s still not magic or revolutionary, just evolution of a well established process.

A viable and universal support material will finally be developed (and it will be good and low cost).

- Machines –
We will see many smaller machines; things will get further miniaturised and become truly portable. Higher quality and faster results.

Bigger machines will also be popular, but will be focused more towards specific materials and uses.

Further excitement around printing metals, reality is that’s still incredibly complex, messy, dangerous and expensive.

We will start to see more 3D Printers designed for specific functions and less ‘general purpose’ printing, especially in Food and all sorts of Art & Sculpture applications.

I still don’t see multi-function machines being a success in the next 3-5 years. Machines that combine many functions (Print-Scan-Mill-Laser-Cut-Make-Toast-Walk-The-Dog) will continue to appear but users will be very disappointed with poor results and complexities.

Topical example -> FLUX All-in-one - Will it be any good? – I really wish them success and a good product. - $1.4Million as I type this – Keep an eye on the Kickstarter comments for this one, and as they say, time will tell…

Specific machines, getting more focused on an application is still the way to go, we are still in a very early eco-system for 'desktop manufacturing'.

We will see many more SLS/SLA/Laser/DLP/Resin printers. Along with advancements in Resin/powder based materials, they will be a very viable choice over FFF/FDM based machines in 2015.

At least twice as many home/pro-consumer 3D printers will be sold in 2015 compared to 2014.

- 3D scanning –
Still a long way to go, but improvements and further products like Fuel3D, will open up a more creative design flow for individual users and designers.

- Processing software –
Some early advanced slicing algorithms will start to make more robust and stable 3D Prints by form analysis and a deeper understanding of the materials being used. Giving the user more advice and less failures or unexpected results.

- Firmware / Electronics –
2015 will finally be the year of ARM based control systems (used in many more production machines), much more sophisticated control algorithms and emphasis on user machine interfaces that are actually intuitive. Setup will be easier to configure and printing machine profiles will start to have ‘dynamically controlled parameters’ for specific materials being used – more than simple Slicer and Gcode control.

- Model / Design –
We will see many more people wearing 3D printed designs / objects and Jewellery and other wearables.

We could see a backlash against the license / subscription ‘cloud-only based’ design/model offerings.
Free-flowing organic design will start to get easier and more accessible for users and designers – combined with improvements and cost reduction in new scanning technology.

Verification of model designs so they can be successfully 3D printed will improve along with better advice for designing for the 3D printing process – awareness and more appropriate use in designs / applications. Just because you can 3D print it…

A viable and usable CAD to 3D Print eco-system will start to emerge – probably driven by Autodesk (Spark etc.)

- Education –
More of a wish than a prediction – I hope we will see more companies and individuals supporting learning and education in schools. Not just by giving or discounting machines and materials, but actually helping with understanding, training and long-term support for teachers, students and the entire education system (all around the world). This goes for all and any technology and ‘making’, not just specifically 3D printing.

- Kickstarter and Crowdfunding –
I have supported more crowdfunding projects this year than previous. Unfortunately the quality and delivery is definitely getting worse, it’s having quite an impact on how people view crowdfunding and tech start-ups. I will personally be more cautious in 2015.

- Patents and Closed-Source Developments –
Well, they are not going to slow down anytime soon, but people the world over are starting to understand the power of cooperation and open-innovation so that’s making a more balanced and sharing eco-system for the future.

- Open-Source and Open Innovation –
Most of these things still need a strong force behind them, person or cause, mission or desire. And it’s getting stronger as more ideas are being shared instead of being trapped or never seeing the light of day. 'Share and Support'

- 3D Printing Shows / Events / Conferences –
It’s going to be ‘war of the shows’ in 2015, things will hot up for global presence, visitors and sponsorship. It’s getting serious business, as interest grows in 3D Printing and all aspects of the design & making process, we will see some collaboration but mostly strong competitive signals in the 2015 show calendar.

- Standards / Associations / Hubs and Resources –
More adopted standards will help growth of 3D printing and usability for many different industries. Global associations will continue to grow with members and support from manufacturers will strengthen the industry.

Community Hubs and file / design / idea sharing resources, will have some significant terms and conditions to work out with their users. The rapidly expanding use of 3D printing has already started to overtake the ability to control what people do with it. And how appropriate or safe it is for a task or application, either implied or assumed. *A very complex and legal issue indeed *

2015 3D Printing predictions are my own and could well be incorrect, see you next year to see how many of these will ring true.

And if you are sat around with nothing to do or want an idea for a business, pick one from the above and make it happen.


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