Expect Greater Consumer Adoption of 3D Printing
Lower cost, more creation tools will drive growthOctober 15, 2012 By Jeff O'Heir
The automotive, aerospace, industrial and medical industries have used 3D printing to create customized in-ear hearing aids, fuel-efficient vehicles and better consumer products. Expect consumers to be the next ones to create useful and innovative products on the devices.
"3D printing opens up mass experimentation in the home and will bring new products to the market," Shawn Dubravac, CEA's chief economist and senior director of research, said during a panel on Five Technology Trends to Watch at CEA's Industry Forum this week in San Francisco.
Experts expect advancements in the devices will foster more sophisticated and accurate manufacturing via future 3D printers. A variety of production templates that consumers can easily input into the devices, programming standardization and widespread user collaboration will also help drive the sale of 3D printers to consumers, the panelists said.
"Most people want to consume, not create, and crowd-sharing will help," said Scott Steinberg, CEO of TechSavvy Global, a management consulting and market research firm, and author of several books, including "The Crowd Funding Bible" and "The Modern Parent's Guide." "People will be able to tweak the programs and come up with some very interesting applications."
Dubravac mentioned a hobby shop outside of Boston currently rents its 3D printer to consumers and that time on the device is always booked. Retailers can also take advantage of the technology by designing products, such as smartphone and tablet cases, based on specific customer recommendations.
"It could be really interesting for consumers to walk into a retailer and receive fully customized products," said Rachel Metz, IT editor at Technology Review. "Maybe (3D printing) can make customization cheaper and faster."
In a recent report, Wohlers and Associates found the No. 1 industry served by 3D printing firms was "consumer products/electronics." Consumer products created via 3D printing included jewelry, kitchenware, decorations, figurines, and CE accessories. More sophisticated 3D-printed circuit boards and 3D-printed metal and plastic cases will also drive the creation of more CE products.
CEA predicts the consumer side of 3D printing will only grow as the costs drop, noting that a number of affordable systems and services have already surfaced.
New York-based Shapeways (Shapeways.com), for example, offers a way for consumers to print their designs and share their creations. The community now has 160,000 members and more than 6,000 shops that have printed more than a million products, from cell phone cases to eyeglass frames. The biggest obstacles to mainstream adoption are affordability and creation tools, but those barriers continue to be removed, paving the way for more widespread use, the panelists said.