The promise of additive manufacturing (AM) has been there since the technology was first invented in the late 1980s and early 1990s (depending on process), but it hasn’t been until the last decade or so that AM has really started to gather momentum. The rise of sites like Thingiverse and Sculpteo (covered by us here) no doubt have a small part to play in this, but is the bread-and-butter of AM, namely prototyping, that is mostly responsible.
A report by IBISWorld on the state of AM looks for revenue to grow over the next five years at an average annualized rate of 7.2% to total $662.4 million. Losses caused by the recession have begun to subside, with increases of 11.6% in 2010 and 18.3% in 2011. As manufacturers continue to rebound from the recession, IBISWorld expects AM to continue to grow.
Developing a prototype is an essential part of product development, and manufacturers are often weighed down by the time and costs involved in the traditional prototype manufacturing process. Because of this, during good economic times, manufacturing activity is major driver of industry revenue. –Nima Samadi, IBISWorld industry analyst
Areas most likely to experience meaningful growth in the next few years include medical, aerospace, airplane, dental and end-user products. Even without a 3D printer in every home, enough service providers like Sculpteo exist to provide customers with AM created products. It only takes one person showing off their custom iPhone case to generate interest in friends and family.
Below you’ll find a TED Talks AM primer video.