One technology trend that has piqued the interest of many in the construction industry, as well as many in the technology space as a whole, is 3D printing. But just how big might this market get and how soon could it infiltrate construction?

Gartner, www.gartner.com, Stamford, Conn., an IT research and advisory company, has released new research that suggests the market for 3D printers is set on a path for rapid growth as early as next year. The company’s latest forecast says worldwide shipments of 3D printers could reach 217,350 units in 2015, which is up from 108,151 this year. What’s more, Gartner suggests 3D printer shipments will increase annually by more than double the previous year between 2015 and 2018, ultimately reaching worldwide shipments of more than 2.3 million.

Pete Basiliere, research vice president, Gartner, describes the overall market as being at an inflection point. “New providers are entering the market, sometimes directly, sometimes through crowdfunding campaigns, on what seems like a daily basis,” he says. “These providers are leveraging the expiration of early extrusion technology patents to make low-cost, low-priced devices targeted mainly at consumers.”

However, the enterprise market for 3D printers is potentially even more lucrative than the consumer market. In industries such as construction, in order for the technology to take hold, equipment costs must come down and there must be a selection of better quality and more diverse materials. The value add must also be clear to construction companies, who tend to hang back and watch before participating in technology trends.

Gartner says new capabilities, new materials, simpler setup and operation, and even lower costs will come to the market in time. While it’s clear 3D printing could offer a wide range of benefits for construction in the future, 3D printing probably will not infiltrate the core of the industry until it has been tested and proven in other industries.

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