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Charting the future of 3D printing

Posted: 14 Oct 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D printing? 3D printer? thermoplastic extrusion? sand printing?

Improvements in existing 3D printing technologies and the development of new ones will drive the growth of the industry from $2.5 billion in 2015 to $20 billion in 2025.

IDTechEx Research has been tracking the 3D printing industry for years by attending events and interviewing major players. All of the information is collated in comprehensive databases of manufacturers, service bureaus and printers with 433 3D printers assessed from manufacturers around the world. The database is regularly updated and provides a solid foundation for assessing the current state of the market, as well as forecasting how things will change in the future.

In particular, it is easy to identify key differentiators between technologies and vendors using this information. However, it is not always easy to analyse or visualise the data, so we have adopted some novel techniques to help.

In the case of printers, the database provides detailed quantitative information on technology type, build volume, build speed, precision, machine price and other elements for hundreds of different machinesranging from consumer-level products to high-end industrial manufacturing for aerospace. Common forms of analysis, such as principal component analysis (PCA), a machine learning algorithm, can be used to study the data in order to spot interesting features such as key differentiators in terms of characteristics (e.g., speed and price or combinations thereof). There are also many different ways to visualise this data.

Our favourite approach to visualising data entails choosing a pair of axes, such as price and build speed, and plotting each printer as a coloured dot according to its technology type. The regions of the price-speed plane occupied by different technologies may then be highlighted by drawing the convex hull that surrounds the points for each technology in its colour. Due to the huge variations in all characteristics, we use log scales throughout.

The following figure shows one such diagram for price vs speed:

3D printing

(Source: IDTechEx Research report 3D Printing: 2015-2025: Technologies, Markets, Players)

This diagram immediately shows the regions occupied by the different 3D printing technologieswith thermoplastic extrusion in the bottom left quadrant (low price and low speed) to sand printing at the top right (high price and high speed) and selective laser melting of metals in the bottom right (high price and low speed).


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