The 3D printing market will grow rapidly in the next few years with demand for machinery expected to reach $5 billion in 2017, according to a forecast from U.S. research group Freedonia. This would represent an annual growth rate of 20.7 percent from a level of $1.9 billion in 2012.
The use of 3D printers for prototyping will continue to account for the majority of demand, but the more rapid growth will be seen in production and consumer applications, said Freedonia. 3D printers will increasingly be used to manufacture direct production parts and finished goods in a wide variety of applications.
Freedonia analyst Pauline Tung said she expects "greater adoption of additive manufacturing technologies as 3D printing speeds and material quality improves."
The largest region is expected to be North America, with sales likely to be $2.3 billion in 2017, according to Freedonia. Demand for 3D printers in Western Europe is forecast to reach $1.2 billion in 2017. In Asia-Pacific, demand will increase by the same amount.
Freedonia said: "Rapid gains are expected in China, where most applications (especially in large markets such as consumer products manufacturing) centre on design, sample testing, or prototyping."
Plastics will account for the major share of materials demand, but Freedonia expects faster growth for metals, based on their greater strength and resistance, as well as rapid gains in markets such as aerospace.
In terms of market sectors, some of the fastest growth will be seen in the dental market, in applications such as braces, prostheses, crowns, bridges, dental aligners, and models for dental restoration procedures.
Other significant markets for 3D printing products include consumer products, such as jewelry, toys, fashion clothing, consumer electronics, as wells as automotive and aerospace.