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Market Analysis of the 3D Printing Industry

3D Printing – A quick Overview


In order for readers to be able to assess the scale and state of UK demand in the market for a 3D Cafe, we need to look at the two broad market segments and offerings that this type of business brings together under one roof. These are the operation of a specialist 3D Printing retail business and the operation of a coffee and sandwich shop. Clearly, it is important to get a handle on current customer demand in both areas and to briefly overview these markets including the most significant recent trends. From this, we will be able to assess the attractiveness of this particular business opportunity in terms of market demand.

3D Printing Market in the UK

3D printing is an emerging technology that is increasing in popularity around the globe. Put simply, 3D printers can create three dimensional objects as easily as a paper printer can create a document. With prices on the way down, 3D printing is set to revolutionise manufacturing in the same way that printing presses changed publishing. At the moment there are several technologies that can form objects from digital designs designed on a computer. Selective Laser Sintering uses laser to combine tiny pieces of plastic, ceramic glass or metal. Another method, Fused Deposition Modeling, uses a nozzle to layer up melted plastic. The earliest 3D printer models spray an adhesive binder onto layers of powder to create an object. The following chart illustrates the most popular uses.

Fig 1: 3D Printing By Category


While the major usage today of 3D printers is by manufacturers and for prototyping new products, the use of 3D printers is only limited by your imagination. Some creative ways in which the technology is being applied are listed below:

1. Prototyping – The most common current use of 3D printing technology is for engineering prototypes. 3D printers can provide designers with easy access to models they can use to test ideas cheaply before they commit to expensive machinery and processes.

2. Designing for home printing – As the technology becomes more common and cheaper, chances are that savvy designers won’t even need to use the printer to manufacture items – the buyer will be able to download designs and print objects at home. Just imagine, you’ve lost the back off your TV remote or need a certain sized screw while doing DIY. There’s no need to pop to the shops when you can find what you need online, pay to download the item and print it instantly.

3. Confectionary – UK scientists have created a prototype chocolate printer. In the words of Dr Liang Hao, lead scientist of the Choc Edge company in Exeter, “You just need to melt some chocolate, fill a syringe that is stored in the printer, and get creative printing your chocolate.” Other companies around the world are developing similar printers.

4. Bones – Engineers have found a durable replacement for bones that have been destroyed by illness or in accidents – titanium that is shaped using 3D printing. In 2011, an anonymous Dutch woman was the first to receive a new titanium jaw. Design technology was used to ensure it fit the patient perfectly and even included areas where nerves could be attached so she could maintain sensations such as touch.

5. Drugs and medicine – Researchers at Glasgow University are currently working on a new method of creating medicine using 3D printers. Their research has resulted in a printer that can not only print the casing of a pill, but also deposit the chemicals inside of. This would allow for bespoke medicines, allowing treatment to happen much more efficiently.

6. Cars – The world’s first 3D printed car was prototyped in 2011. The ‘Urbee’ has a slick futuristic design and uses a petrol and electric hybrid engine. It is one of the greenest cars in the world and can be charged for next to nothing from a plug socket. The team behind the Urbee are raising funds for a second prototype and it will be some time until the Urbee is available to buy, but the process of its creation is set to revolutionise the industry.

7. Buildings – Italian Enrico Dini, founder of Monolte UK has created the D-Shape printer, which is the world’s largest. It bonds sand with a special binding material to make a sandstone style product that can be used to create large structures. There are many benefits of his system, as it allows for easy production of Gaudi-esque designs and the ability to either create buildings bit by bit off site or in one go on site.

8. Jewellery – Many jewellery designers have started to use 3D printing to create intricate designs out of materials such as plastic and titanium. As the technology becomes more sophisticated people should be able to commission their own designs, which provides great potential for bespoke wedding rings and gifts.

9. Personalised toys and gifts – Several online toy manufacturers are now using 3D printers to manufacture bespoke action figures that have the facial features of the customer based on photographs that are sent to them. Disney are also in on the act at their Hollywood Studios, allowing Star Wars fans to step into a booth where cameras map out their features and allow their image to be ‘carbonised’ in 3D like Han Solo in the “Empire Strikes Back”. For non Star Wars fans, this essentially means that mini statues of their form can be printed out for them to display at home.

10. Entertainment – Everything from Iron Man’s suit in the popular Avengers movie, to parts of the plasticine characters in Aardman’s The Pirates has been created using 3D printers. As the technology becomes more prominent, it will play an important part in creating new special effects, props and costumes in your favourite films, TV shows and theatre productions. Is there a gap in the market for bespoke costumes for role players and fancy dress shops?

With the technology now being used in so many different industries for so many different innovative purposes, it is no wonder that there is significant excitement about the future potential of the market. In order to get an idea of the current size of both the global market in the UK for 3D Printing, we can refer to some statistics generated in some recent reports on the industry. As this is still a nascent industry both here and globally, there is some debate amongst analysts as to the exact size of the market now and the potential future growth of the industry. However, what everyone agrees upon is that demand for 3D printing will increase significantly over the course of the next 5 years.

For example, Canalys predicts the global 3D printing market will grow from $2.5B in 2013 to $16.2B by 2018, a CAGR of 45.7% in the forecast period. Services and materials will still constitute the largest portion of this demand (a projected $10.8 bn by 2018 compared with $5.4 bn of 3D printers), although all analysts including Canalys agree that demand will increase significantly for 3D printers as manufacturers keep producing increasingly cheap versions for household rather than industrial use. This is summarised in the table below.

Table 3: Estimated Global 3D Printing Market in USD (2013 – 2018)


All analysts agree that demand for 3D printing will continue to grow, driven by three main factors: customization potential, convenience and manufacturing efficiencies. Items can be printed and personalized to order. They can often be printed locally, rather than necessitating designs be sent off to large, sometimes distant, manufacturing facilities. 3D printing also promises less waste and often lower energy consumption than conventional manufacturing processes. Given these benefits and the breadth of use cases, there is no doubt that this market is set for significant growth. Here in the UK, the market is still relatively underdeveloped compared to the United States and other pioneering early adopters of this technology. However, the Government is keen to support the adoption of 3D printing here in the UK and has offered several multi million pound grants to UK businesses operating in the industry. It has also committed £15 million to set up a national 3D Printing Centre. It seems clear that the UK government supports 3D printing technology and is committed to help UK businesses stay at the forefront of the global market.

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