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The 3D printer market topped $2.5 billion worldwide in 2013, and analysts believe that number will balloon drastically, reaching $16.2 billion by 2018, according to research from Canalys. 3D printing technology became more prominent over the past year or two, but the printers and materials are still relatively expensive.
Early adopters praised 3D printing, but critics mentioned high cost and impractical functionality as reasons not to support the technology. However, 3D printing is still in its infancy and will mature quickly as the industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace:
"This is a market with enormous growth potential now that the main barriers to uptake are being addressed," said Tim Shepherd, Canalys senior analyst, in an interview with SiliconValley.com. "As it matures, there is clear and substantial potential across numerous sectors, such as engineering and architecture, aerospace and defense, and medical (particularly in the fabrication of custom prosthetics), for 3D printing to have a dramatic impact within five years."
During South by Southwest this year, 3D printing is on full display, with industry supporters handing out 3D-printed food to event attendees. Major tradeshows and conventions, such as CES 2014 and SXSW are helping display 3D technology on a big platform, introducing a new audience to potential for the food industry.
3D printed food should give the 3D printing industry a strong boost in 2014, with a larger number of casual consumers being exposed to the technology. Chocolate maker Hershey's is expected to support 3D printing for the next few years, creating edible chocolate sweets for visitors at its factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
3D Systems, which partnered with Hershey's and other select companies, has the ChefJet food printer - though with a price tag still around $5,000, only a small number of bakeries and food makers will be able to afford the niche technology. During SXSW, the ChefJet is using sugar, water and alcohol to print delicious candies that taste sugary and sweet.
The cost of 3D printing still hasn't decreased enough to significantly drive consumer adoption, but a growing number of businesses should start thinking about the technology. It's not just small bits of food or novelty items - there is great potential to 3D print human tissue, car parts, fighter jet materials, furniture, and other similar intricate products.
Decision makers need to decide if 3D printing will help produce, sell, or otherwise benefit the company - and consider the costs and technological issues relating to move from traditional printing to 3D printing.
"Over the last six months, my colleague Michael Yamnitsky and I have been research the 3D printing ecosystem, working to understand the impact on business and technology systems," said Sophia Vargas, Forrester analyst, in a blog post. "We anticipate that 3D printing will expand the reach of digital disruption, paving the way for new products, processes, and delivery models."
Technology to bring 3D printing closer to the mass market is accelerating, though most 3D printed items tend to be rather small in size. To help demonstrate the effectiveness of printing larger items, BigRep, a company founded in 2014, opens the door to printing items such as furniture. The device is launching worldwide at large trade shows, and begins shipping in two months, with a $39,000 MSRP.
The BigRep One can print full-scale objects in sizes up to 45x39x47 inches, and has the ability to print plastics, nylons, Laywood (wood fibers mixed with polymers), and Laybrick (something similar to sandstone-type of material).
"We know that the need for 3D prints has increased enormously in the creative industries among architects, artists and inventors, among others," said Lukas Oehmigen, BigRep founder, in a press statement. "We have developed printing technology that lowers costs by about 90%, opening the door to a new dimension. Clients may now affordably produce life-size, three dimensional objects."
The Queensland Police are now able to quickly and accurately map a crime scene using a handheld mapping scanner developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
The device can measure up to 30 meters away with laser technology coupled with a remote-sensing scanner able to measure gravitational forces, velocity and orientation.
"The benefits of this new technology will reduce interference at a scene, save time and allow access to previously hard to reach areas such as steep declines and bushland," said Ian Stewart, Queensland Police Commissioner, in a statement.
The CSIRO Zebedee Scanner is mainly seeing use in the field by crime scene investigators, though could be used in auto collisions and other routine incidents, officials say
3D Systems has teamed up with toy manufacturer Hasbro with plans to print Transformers characters for children and full-grown geeks alike. The co-developed 3D toys should be available sometime later this year, but product pricing and exact models remain unknown.
"We believe 3D printing offers endless potential to bring incredible new play experiences for kids and we're excited to work with 3D Systems, a recognized industry leader in this space," said Brian Goldner, Hasbro President and CEO, in a statement.
Hasbro also oversees Star Wars, Monopoly, Scrabble, and other popular games, so the potential for 3D printed toys has barely scratched the surface. As casual consumers become more accustomed to seeing 3D products, the children's market could help drive demand - once prices continue to drop - in the years to come.
Auto maker Ford has teamed up with 3D specialist 3D Systems to print edible chocolate models of the 2015 Ford Mustang. The American auto company plans to make both chocolate and sugar candies of the car, which started with a CAD rendering that was then sent to a 3D printer.
"We wanted to create something fun to show that while 3D printing made these edible Mustangs, manufacturing-level 3D printing was used in the development of Ford's all-new sports car," said Paul Susalla, 3D specialist at Ford.
Depending on consumer reaction, it's possible Ford will provide 3D-printed chocolate and candies for general purchase.
Ford already has worked to integrate 3D printing into its business, using 3D printed parts that engineers can tweak and test, for example, in an effort to remain competitive. The 2015 Ford Mustang will hit the auto market in fall 2014 for U.S. consumers, with other markets receiving the vehicle throughout 2015.
Consumers following 3D printing likely haven't purchased a unit for use at home, but the market could evolve into a $70 billion per year industry, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.
"In spite of widespread publicity around 3D printing over the past year or so, 3D printers designed for home use are only at the beginning of their long journey towards widespread consumer adoption," said David Mercer, Strategy Analytics Principal Analyst, in a press statement. "The industry must overcome a number of barriers if the long-term potential of 3D printing as a consumer market is to be realized."
3D printing has become a popular topic of discussion in the business world, with consumer companies, manufacturing, biotech and medical industries especially interested in the emerging technology. However, until the price of printers - and materials - drops more in 2014, home users are likely going to simply sit and wait to see how the market develops.
Warner Bros. Pictures recently announced the IMAX 3D version of "Gravity" has topped $100 million in 639 theaters since release on Oct. 3, 2013. Movie industry analysts saw tremendous demand for the 3D version of Gravity, with the film designed to make a fantastic viewing experience in 3D theaters.
The original IMAX version of the film was the highest-grossing IMAX movie of 2013 in the United States and international markets, box office records reveal.
"We congratulate our longtime partners at Warner Bros., along with writer-director-producer Alfonso Cuaron, and producer David Heyman, for crafting a visually and emotionally stunning film that appeals to IMAX audiences around the world and has also garnered widespread acclaim," said Greg Foster, IMAX CEO, in a statement.
3D movie technology has largely improved over the past two years, but movie goers don't like the viewing experience and higher price tag of 3D movies. However, select movie titles can generate good box office results, although it is difficult to determine which movies will succeed.
TweakTown published a Gravity review in late October, which can be read here.
There will be 28 3D movie releases in 2014, which is a continued slide in overall releases with consumers showing less interest in the pricier movie experience. A recent industry analyst believes 3D movies will capture just 39 percent of box office revenue in 2014, which would be the lowest ratio sales comparison in more than five years.
A recent Harris Poll study found that 69 percent of American movie goers believe 3D is only so movie studios and theaters can charge more for movie tickets.
For the past few years, there was interest from movie theaters want more expensive 2D films, with 3D movie prices lowering slightly, to generate new interest. However, that technique wisely wasn't rolled out, though 3D movie box office sales figures still disappoint.