Revolutionary technologies often languish in the wings for years, as smartphones did. Then they hit a tipping point — for smartphones, it was touchscreens and apps — and everything changes. Our lives go topsy-turvy. Industries get remade. And a few years in, we look back and say, oh, yeah, that was obvious.
And so it is for 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. 3D printed prosthetic limbs, cars and equipment for exploring Mars? All are now on the way. The printers are popping up in our kids’ schools and in maker spaces down the street. From startups like Food Ink to global players like Johnson & Johnson, companies are developing new and innovative uses for the disruptive technology.
Industry forecasts reflect this growing infiltration. Over the past three years, after decades of chugging along, the market began showing hints of the hockey-stick growth that heralds major shifts. In 2016, the entire 3D printing market was $6.1 billion, according to consulting firm Wohlers Associates. By 2022, that’s expected to exceed $26 billion, estimates Wohlers Associates. And Boston Consulting Group forecasts that within 20 years, it could become $350 billion market.
So what will it take for 3D printing to fully unleash the digital industrial revolution that is already underway? What are the tipping points that will move it from prototyping or small-volume manufacturing of niche parts to a new standard for large-scale industrial production capable of digitally transforming the $12 trillion global manufacturing industry?