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Gartner’s Top 3 Failed Predictions on 3D Printing (That Will Probably Never Come True)

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Many in 3D printing are familiar with market forecast giant Gartner for its New Technology Hype Cycle Chart. This useful graph helps explain why new technologies – such as 3D printing – first experience a boom in media hype and public attention to then crash for failing to deliver on highly inflated expectations. Not always, however, Gartner’s predictions on 3D printing have been on point. In fact, some were totally and completely far out. So much so that one wonders how – and why – they were formulated. Here are Gartner’s top 3 failed predictions on 3D printing that most likely will never materialize.

Gartner’s top 3 failed predictions on 3D printing
Epic fail #1: $100 billion in IP losses per year by 2018


Gartner's Top 3 prediction on 3D printing
Sorry Katy Perry (and your team of high-priced lawyers), you can’t claim IP rights over a costume.

In a report published in 2014, Gartner claimed that as much as $100 million in IP losses would occur by 2018 due to 3D printing.

“The rapid emergence of this technology will also create major challenges in relation to intellectual property (IP) theft. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in IP globally.” Gartner, 2014

In 2018 – that is today – that amount is closer to $0. No real IP losses have occurred due to 3D printing. While people do use reverse engineering technologies and some consumers do 3D print designs covered by trademarks, this has hardly impacted any major IP owner’s business, beside a couple of cases involving Disney (Star Wars), Nintendo, Square Enix and Katy Perry just being big bad bullies. Physical object piracy is still far from representing a real threat. The main problem here is that 3D printing has failed so far to even generate $100 billion in IP related revenues (let alone losses).

This far out prediction came as part of another somewhat unlikely forecast. Namely that the rapid development of 3D bioprinters would spark calls to ban the technology for human and nonhuman use by 2016.

“The technology of 3D “bioprinting” (the medical application of 3D printing to produce living tissue and organs) is advancing so quickly that it will spark a major ethical debate on its use by 2016, according to Gartner Inc. At the same time, 3D printing of non-living medical devices such as prosthetic limbs, combined with a burgeoning population and insufficient levels of healthcare in emerging markets, is likely to cause an explosion in demand for the technology by 2015.”

Two years after the prediction date, not only have bioprinters not been banned for use in humans and non-humans but, unfortunately, they have also not developed fast enough to spark such a debate. Bioprinters are demonstrating to be extremely valuable tools. While awareness is still quite low amidst the general public, public opinion generally views them as highly useful and beneficial devices. The most troubling issue for most people is that they are not yet able to deliver organs for use in humans (and won’t be for quite a long time).

Gartner’s top 3 failed predictions on 3D printing
Epic fail #2:  enterprise-class 3D printers will cost less than $2,000 by 2016

More than an outright failed forecast, this one – dating back to early 2013 – should be written off as wishful thinking.

“By 2016, enterprise-class 3D printers will be available for under $2,000. Early adopters can experiment with 3D printers with minimal risk of capital or time, possibly gaining an advantage in product design and time to market over their competition, as well as understanding the realistic material costs and time to build parts. Furthermore, the enterprise uses for 3D printers have expanded as capabilities of 3D scanners and design tools have advanced, and as the commercial and open-source development of additional design software tools has made 3D printing more practical. Gartner believes that the commercial market for 3D print applications will continue expanding into architectural, engineering, geospatial and medical uses, as well as short-run manufacturing.” Gartner, 2013.

Gartner's Top 3 prediction on 3D printing
Sorry, you will not be able to buy GE’s upcoming ATLAS 3D printer for under $2,000.

While some $2,000 printers do offer acceptable performances, they can hardly be defined as enterprise-class. It would have been nice if a real enterprise-class $500K metal 3D printer were now available for under $2K. Unfortunately, it’s simply not possible. Not so much for market dynamics and physiological evolution rates of technologies, but also purely for a logical conundrum. If those that were enterprise-class 3D printers in 2013 were to really drop in price from $200,000+ to below $2,000 it would seem just as logical that the term enterprise-grade 3D printer would then be used to describe a new generation of systems – currently unfathomable – that would offer enterprise-class capabilities at enterprise-class prices. And these would certainly continue to cost a lot. The closes we have come is HP’s attempt to slash the price of polymer powder bed fusion hardware, but it still leaves us well above $150K.

Gartner’s top 3 failed predictions on 3D printing
Epic fail #3: 10% of people in developed world will have a printed medical device in or on them by 2019

This one is not as far out but it is still dramatically inaccurate and exaggerated. Gartner’s Pete Basiliere admits it is a stretched out prediction but justifies it with rapid adoption rates for 3D printed implants.

“Assuming about 6 billion people live in the developed world, 10% is 600 million people—a large target for a still-early technology until one considers today’s growing uses plus the massive number of innovations and “third world” appeal.” Gartner, 2015.

It is not clear how “third world appeal” would affect developed world adoption rates. Nevertheless, it is not so far out to imagine, that over the next decade, as many as 1 out of 10 persons with implants (not 10% of the entire population but 10% of the population that needs implants) in the developed world will have a 3D printed one.

In addition, it should be said that the developed world (which is not the majority world) cannot – by definition – include 6 billion people out of 8 billion Earthlings. That number should refer to the actual majority world, which is a recently introduced way to describe developing (not developed) countries. So that the number of people with 3D printed implants (by 2029, not 2019) comes out closer to 10% of 10% of 2 billion: more like 20 million. That seems more accurate, and quite a challenge still.

Gartner's Top 3 prediction on 3D printing
Sorry but 3D printed titanium implants are still a relative luxury (you’ll need very, very good insurance, like top 2% medical insurance).

Making forecasts is a tough job. We do it every day. Many times you are inevitably going to be wrong. But generally, you have some basis to build upon. What is so puzzling about these three failed predictions is that – even when they were formulated – there was not much activity that would justify them. Gartner might want to review its hype cycle a bit more accurately to find its own slope of enlightenment.

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746 composites AM companies individually surveyed and studied. Core composites AM market generated over $785 million in 2023. Market expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2033 at 25.8% CAGR. This new...

Victor Anusci

Victor does not really exist. He is a pseudonym for several writers in the 3D Printing Media Network team. As a pseudonym, Victor has also had a fascinating made-up life story, living as a digital (and virtual) nomad to cover the global AM industry. He has always worked extra-hard whenever he was needed to create unique content. However, lately, as our editorial team has grown, he is mostly taking care of publishing press releases.

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