Emerging Technology

Has Consumer 3D Printing Failed?

Emerging Technology
3D Printing Investing

A critical look at the once-promising desktop 3D printer market.

Consumer 3D printing was once viewed to be the holy grail for artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, inventors, small business owners and tech enthusiasts at large. Today, the market appears to be in shambles. Desktop 3D printer sales are down, companies are closing their doors, and the patina has worn off of this once-energizing industry,
So, is this the end of consumer 3D printing? Or will it rise again to become a strong market sub-sector and viable site for investment? In this article, the Investing News Network takes a critical look at this market to see what the future holds for consumer 3D printing.

Challenging market conditions

The market for consumer 3D printers began as one of the most promising areas of 3D printing, with early adopters were already envisioning a future where every home had its own desktop 3D printer. MakerBot was an early and successful entrant into the market for desktop 3D printers. According to IDTechEx Analyst Rachel Gordon, the company sold an impressive 40,550 printers prior to 2013 – not enough to put a 3D printer in every house, but enough to convince industry supporters that widespread 3D printing adoption was an inevitable future development. In 2013, Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) acquired in the company, in a move intended to give the larger company a foothold into the increasingly competitive landscape of consumer 3D printing. The year following the acquisition, MakerBot sold almost 40,000 3D printers.

However, the market has become increasingly challenging since this peak in 2014. In 2015, the company sold just 18,673 printers and was forced to lay off more than 20 percent of its employees. In April of this year, the company further announced that it would lay off its factory workers and outsource all manufacturing to China. Although this move may save money, it has caused long time supporters of the company (and its “Made in America” mandate) to lose faith in the market.
Makerbot’s decline has been read as symbolic of the decline of the personal 3D printer industry. Back in the early days of 3D printing, the company and the market for personal 3D printers were so closely intertwined that its difficult for many of us to separate their paths. The narrative of personal 3D printing is, in many ways, tied to the ascent and decline of the innovative startup.

Promise of future growth

However, statistics from IDTechEx Research suggest that this might be a myth. Indeed, data shows that approximately 375,000 desktop extrusion printers were sold in 2015. The vast majority of these printers were sold by the the Taiwanese company XYZPrinting, suggesting that Asia is an underestimated region to watch when it comes to 3D printing.

Meanwhile, Lenovo (HKG:0992) is worth a mention, for its rebranding and distribution of the DaVinci printers in collaboration with XYZPrinting. According to IDTechEx, Lenovo’s involvement in the consumer 3D printing marketplace is indicative of a broader trend: large tech companies (like HP [HYSE:HPQ] and Autodesk [NASDAQ:ADSK]) investing in the 3D printing market. And, unlike plucky startup MakerBot, these companies have a wealth of capital and brand power to fuel their entry into the market.
Therefore, it seems like consumer 3D printing isn’t doomed forever. Rather, the sector currently in a state of flux. Investors, then, need to be on the lookout for where the next big opportunities lie within this dynamic, challenging, at times frustrating and always exciting industry.
To keep up to date with Technology Investing News, follow us on Twitter @INN_Technology.
Securities Disclosure: I, Morag McGreevey, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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