3D Printing Industry Cools As Buyers Demand More For Less

The once burgeoning industry of 3D printers is currently in a slump as many prospective buyers are holding off buying the machines to see what models will be released next. Like with all technology, many purchasers are taking a wait-and-see approach to see if better, more advanced, less expensive models are available in the future.

Both Stratasys and 3D Systems, companies which together account for more than one-third of 3D printer sales in 2014, have suffered steep declines in their stock prices. The market value of the leading stocks in the once booming 3D printing arena have fallen by nearly $14 billion since early 2014 to about $2.8 billion at the present time. Reasons for the slump: reliability and quality problems with the printers; a slow period of sales after the initial onslaught of sales when the 3D printers were first released; and tighter budgets of businesses across the globe.

Additionally, the household market for printers has yet to take off, despite the availability of such machines at retailers across the country for a price less than $5,000. Only a small percentage of 3D companies’ sales come from household consumers. Terry Wohlers, a 3D printer market consultant, stated that “[Analysts] felt all along there isn’t much of a consumer market for these machines. They’re not easy to use. A lot of them in homes are sitting there collecting dust.”

With respect to the period of stagnant sales, Brian Drab, an analyst for William Blair & Co. put it best when he stated that “[The industry has] gone through an early adopter phase where [companies] bought printers to convey innovation. [The industry is] going into more mainstream adoption where [one is] going to look silly if [he] make[s] a capital investment in a printer that runs at 5% of the speed that’s coming onto the market. Why not wait?” Of particular interest is that Hewlett-Packard Co. and other leading manufacturers in the traditional printing industry plan to enter into the 3D printer market in the near future with fresh, more reliable and faster printers.

As 3D printing is likely to become commonplace in the future, right now it is essentially on hold. Until ease of use increases, quality and speed improve and lower prices arrive, both businesses and household consumers alike will simply wait to make their purchases.