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3D printing 'mainstream in five years'

21 August 2014, 15:48 Duncan Alfreds, Fin24

Cape Town - Mainstream access to 3D printing is some years away, but will nevertheless be accessible, an industry tracker says.

According to Gartner, 3D printing will first be used in the medical and business fields before it enters the consumer market up to a decade from now.

"Consumer 3D printing is around five to 10 years away from mainstream adoption," said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner.

The prices for 3D printers has fallen considerably since the technology was introduced, but typically, the printers start at around KES 350 000.

Controversial technology

Despite the number of manufacturers selling 3D printers at lower costs than just a few years ago, Basiliere argued that it would take some time for mainstream adoption to become a reality.

"Today, approximately 40 manufacturers sell the 3D printers most commonly used in businesses, and over 200 startups worldwide are developing and selling consumer-oriented 3D printers, priced from just a few hundred dollars.

"However, even this price is too high for mainstream consumers at this time, despite broad awareness of the technology and considerable media interest," he added.

Despite the hype, current 3D printing technology is in its infancy, but is expected to grow. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

The young technology has also been controversial.

There are serious concerns that 3D printing technology could be used to print weapons. In 2013, Defence Distributed demonstrated the Liberator, a plastic 3D printed gun that could fire live rounds.

The design was downloaded more than 100 000 times before being taken off the internet, but it has highlighted concern that anybody with a 3D printer could potentially manufacture weapons.

Additionally, because the gun is plastic, it may not be detected by security control checkpoints such as the airport, for example.

Different technologies

But the complexity of 3D printing technologies could ensure that home users won't be rushing to print guns any time soon.

"Hype around home use obfuscates the reality that 3D printing involves a complex ecosystem of software, hardware and materials whose use is not as simple to use as 'hitting print' on a paper printer," said Basiliere.

Different printing technologies have varying degrees of quality and are material specific.

"First, determine the material, performance and quality requirements of the finished items first; second, determine the best 3D printing technology; and third, select the right 3D printer," Basiliere said.

Gartner will be hosting its Symposium/ITxpo in Cape Town on 10 - 12 September where 3D printing and other cutting edge technologies will be discussed.

Check out this News24 Live video with Ignite 3D printing and what the possibilities are:

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