On-Demand 3D Printing Aims First for Small Biz Users

Almost half of consumer, heavy industry and life sciences manufacturers are expected to be using 3D printers within three years. To help companies experiment with the technology on-demand 3D printing services are springing up.

With 3D printing predicted to become an increasingly important tool for manufacturers, services are springing up to help smaller businesses get started with the technology.

3D printers take computer models of objects and build them layer by layer. Printers generally construct items from a single material -- such as plastic, metal, ceramics or carbon fiber.

Analyst house Gartner found businesses are planning to use 3D printing for creating prototypes, developing products and building items not possible using traditional manufacturing methods.

Of the 300 firms with more than 100 employees spoken to by Gartner, there was a belief 3D printing could reduce the average cost of producing finished goods by just over four percent.

An interesting finding was that respondents felt overwhelmingly that using a 3D printer as part of their supply chain generally reduces the cost of existing processes, especially research and product development costs, said Gartner research director Pete Basiliere.

We predict that by 2018, almost 50 percent of consumer, heavy industry and life sciences manufacturers will use 3D printing to produce parts for the items they consume, sell or service.

However, only a minority of firms own a 3D printer today, with Gartner finding that 37 percent possess a single printer and 18 percent have bought 10 or more.

While consumer 3D printers can purchased for $1,000 or less -- the cost of commercial 3D printers that offer the precision and build quality many businesses need can run into tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds.

But purchasing a 3D printer is not the only option for businesses who wish to try out the technology, said Basiliere.

Organizations that wish to experiment with...

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