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3D printers set for lift off? Yes, yes, yes... at some point in the future

If only hardware makers could print more customers

The lift-off of New Shepard

3D printing is still perched on the edge of greatness, industry types insist, but sales are not yet matching the marketing bluster.

The latest stats in the shipment stakes arrived on our desks today from the number-crunchers at Context - units sales went up 19 per cent year-on-year in Q4 to 73,012 machines.

Some 96 per cent of total sales were desktop/ personal printers, mostly priced below $5,000, a segment of the market that grew 24 per cent. Conversely, the industrial/professional sector declined 24 per cent to 2,907 shipments.

“This nascent side of the 3D printer market again saw great changes in 2015,” said Context veep for global analysis Chris Connery.

“Companies with a long standing presence in the additive manufacturing market scaled back their expectations for this newer, desktop side of the market, retooling to concentrate more on their core B2B competencies,” he added.

The de-emphasis on consumer 3D printers was self evident in the second half of the year, with market behemoth Stratasys/Maker Bot and 3D Systems/Cubity looking to tap up business punters.

Other brands are trying to squeeze into the space that was occupied by those big hitters and new entrants include startups and toy company Mattel (a sub-$3000 machine is due by year’s end) alongside IT firms such as HP, Canon and Ricoh.

The largest crowdfunding efforts to date in the world of 3D printers will also see newbie Tiko enter the fray, with pre-sales of its $179 model reaching 16,000 to date ahead of its launch later in 2016.

In the quarter, Taiwanese firm XYPrinting notched up 31 per cent market share on sales of desktop 3D printers and Stratasys was ruler of the industrial and professional sector, followed by 3D Systems, which yesterday pulled in HP alumnus Vyomesh Joshi as its CEO.

Joshi straddled HP’s printer division for more than a decade - he was at the company for 32 years - until he left in 2012 when the printer and PC businesses were bunched together under the control of Todd Bradley.

3D Systems lost $596.4m in calendar Q4 on sales of $183.4m, in part due to clearing. This compared to a profit of $4.2m in the prior year period when sales came in at $187.4m. For the year, turnover edged up 1.9 per cent on 2014 to $666.2m, and it reported a net loss of $641.9m versus a net profit of $26.3m. Part of the losses were related to exiting the consumer sector.

Clearly Joshi has his work cut out, and will have his former employer HP to compete with when it launches into the 3D printer space in the autumn.

For the year, desktop/personal 3D printer shipments grew 33 per cent as the industrial/ pro sector declined nine per cent.

Context forecast that the 3D printer market - hardware, materials and services - would grow from $4.1bn in 2015 to $16.2bn by 2020. ®

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