Home use of 3-D printing systems will be the fastest-growing market for the technologies, according to a speaker at Expoplast 2012.
“North American demand is about $1.7 billion in products and services,” said Vincent Laithier, sales manager of Axis Prototypes, a three-dimensional printing and prototype producer based in Saint-Leonard, Quebec. “The market will double in size in the next four years, primarily from home printers.”
Laithier was addressing delegates at the Innovation Briefs seminars during Expoplast, held Nov. 14-15 in Montreal. Laithier was citing statistics generated by Wohlers Associates Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo.
Home use will include consumers making replacement electronic parts and appliance parts from computer-aided design drawings downloaded from websites. In the future consumers could elect to make their own toys using 3-D printing. A novel use will be creating 3-D family portraits from 2-D photographs, he predicted.
Laithier said 3-D printing began in 1986 when the first stereolithography machines hit the market. More technologies were developed and in 2003 direct metal laser sintering became available. Axis added metal laser sintering to its capabilities recently and at Expoplast featured its stainless-steel parts made that way.
Laithier said the biggest current market for 3-D printing is consumer products, representing 24 percent of demand. That sector is followed by motor vehicles (19 percent), medical/dental (13 percent), business machines (10 percent), aerospace (8 percent), government/military (7 percent), architecture (4 percent), academia (4 percent) and other, including home use, (6 percent).
Rapid manufacturing is a fast-growing area, opined Laithier. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co., for example, uses selective laser sintering for short runs of parts.
Advantages of 3-D printing include no tooling costs, no inventory costs, shorter time to market, and the ability to innovate during development and make major changes to the critical path of part development.
Toy producer Mega Bloks Inc. of Montreal uses 3-D printing to create prototypes that it can show to retail buyers to help them decide to pre-book orders before the actual toys are molded.
Laithier said one of the major recent market shifts occurred in spring 2012, when Stratasys Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn., merged with Objet Ltd. of Rehovot, Israel.
Axis has more than 15 years of experience in 3-D printing.