The rise of 3D printing will shift the focus from manufacturing to procurement © 123RF
The rise of 3D printing will shift the focus from manufacturing to procurement © 123RF

Doubling 3D printer sales herald procurement as 'core differentiator'

21 October 2016

There will be a doubling in the number of 3D printers shipped this year, according to Gartner.

Gartner predicts 455,772 units will ship in 2016, compared to 219,168 in 2015, as firms use the technology to create prototypes, augment manufacturing processes and produce finished goods.

David Noble, CEO of CIPS, acknowledged the impact 3D printing would have on procurement in coming years, by putting the purchasing of materials centre stage.

“It means that a shift from manufacturing to materials acquisition becomes a core differentiator,” he said at the CIPS Annual Conference in London, where he launched the CIPS Supply Century white paper, defining the future evolution of supply management.

Gartner said that even though market growth in the sector has slowed after an initial spurt, it was expecting more than 6.7m printers to be shipped by 2020.

The research firm expects 3D printing uses to widen as new technology providers and processes emerge.

"Once a niche market, 3D printing has continued its rapid transformation into a broad-based mainstream technology embraced by consumers and enterprises around the world," said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner.

"The evolution of hardware and software along with an ever-expanding collection of usable materials has driven growth in both the consumer and enterprise 3D printing markets."

The 3D printing market is made up of seven technologies with material extrusion, where plastic filament is heated until malleable and extruded through a nozzle forecast, set to be market leader up to 2020 and possibly beyond because of its relatively low pricing.

Stereolithography printer shipments, which use a different technology, will also grow rapidly as new providers enter the market and the range of printable materials expands.

Educational institutions, enterprise engineering, marketing and creative departments, are the principal customers of 3D printers.

And while researchers expects the primary use of such devices to be in devising prototypes up to 2020, their use to augment manufacturing is expected to spread with time.

By 2020 nearly 65% of manufacturers, that expect to use 3D printers, will be using them to produce components of the products they sell or service.

“Aircraft and aerospace manufacturers have been taking this approach for years, using 3D printers to produce low-volume parts and small lots of parts with complex designs,” said Basiliere.

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