3D printer hype may end up disappointing consumers: analyst

Consumers might be disappointed by the reality of widely-available, high-end 3D printers, claims  an analyst at research firm Gartner.

US technology research firm Gartner published a report last month predicting that “enterprise-class” 3D printers would be available for $US 2,000 by 2016 to consumers, about the current price of a functioning, entry-level printer.

The take-up of the technology would also be helped by improvements in the performance of 3D scanners. Its use has potential to transform many types of businesses, with Gartner likening its disruptive properties to e-commerce.

“3D printing is a technology accelerating to mainstream adoption,” said Gartner research director Pete Basiliere in a statement accompanying the report on the much-hyped emerging technology.

“From descriptions of exciting current uses in medical, manufacturing and other industries to futuristic ideas — such as using 3D printers on asteroids and the moon to create parts for spacecraft and lunar bases — the hype leads many people to think the technology is some years away when it is available now and is affordable to most enterprises.”

Network World reports that Basiliere has said the technology may disappoint consumers to whom it becomes available, due to the need for proficiency with sophisticated CAD software to effectively make use of 3D printing.

"Once you have that, now you still have to print it out, and depending upon the consumer's skill set, it could be a very difficult process of trial-and-error getting the printer to produce the part that they envisioned," Basiliere told Network World.

"Not that the printer is incapable, but there may be need for support structures and other elements in the design that, if the consumer isn't proficient with the software, it leads to a bad print."