This last month there has been quite a lot of speculating and predicting what 2019 will bring in terms of additive manufacturing (AM). Our notions are based on our experience and understanding of the AM ecosystem, yet there are sources such as Gartner that specialize in research of markets and the additive manufacturing market in particular (full report here). One of the tools Gartner uses is the Hype Cycle, each year they use the Hype Cycle graph in order to map the state of a specific technology, they define 5 stages which a new technology goes through from early stages of innovation to adoption. In 2014 Gartner published the first Hype Cycle dedicated solely to 3D printing, up until then it was included in the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. It’s quite interesting to track and compare the changes from year to year, the ecosystem moves fast and objectively speaking things change over time, which makes it hard to predict. Here is a look at 3D printing according to Gartner’s Hype Cycle predictions from 2017 and 2018 (and back at 2014). How does 3D printing measure up?
Location, Location, Location
First things first – location. Which trends have moved further on the Hype Cycle? This year, 3D printing service bureaus and 3D printing creation software reached the coveted Plateau of Productivity, which according to Garnter is where mainstream adoption starts to take off. Yet it’s not just about reaching the end goal, it’s also interesting to see unexpected movements on the graph, trends that we anticipated advance at a certain rate which surprised us. For example, in 2017 3D printing of dental devices was predicted to reach mainstream adoption in 5-10 years, just a year later it moved to 2-5 years. 3D printing of jigs and fixtures made big strides as it made its way from the Trough of Disillusionment, a period where interest goes down, experiments are no longer exciting and applications of the technology fail to deliver, into the Slope of Enlightenment, which represents a rising understanding of how the technology can benefit the enterprise. It also changed status in the years predicted to reach mainstream adoption, moving from the 5-10 year category to 2-5 years. This is a major leap especially considering that in 2014 it wasn’t even present on the Hype Cycle. I assume it might have been considered to be part of 3D printing in manufacturing operations which was just beginning to slide down from the Peak of Inflated Expectations.
What’s in a Name?
3D printing of jigs and fixtures isn’t the only trend to appear mid-cycle. Names and definitions in the Hype Cycle change from year to year, It’s only natural that as things progress and develop they become more precise, hence the name changes. So, while 3D printing in manufacturing operations remained in the same location, jigs and fixtures that are part of that category have moved further along (below an assembly fixture developed on HP’s Multi Jet Fusion Platform). In 2014 there were fewer trends on the graph, one of them, industrial 3D printing was just reaching the Peak of Inflated Expectations, but in both hype cycles published in 2017 and 2018, it doesn’t appear. Of course, this isn’t a trend that disappeared but rather there is a realization that industrial 3D printing is and can be so many different things. 3D printing in automotive, for example, can definitely be considered part of industrial 3D printing, and according to the latest graph, it’s on the verge of mainstream adoption. So even if the name isn’t the same the trajectory is clear and in a way, a trend splitting into multiple trends is an acknowledgment of a maturing category.
Triangles and Other Misconceptions
While the ecosystem is maturing, Gartner understands that early stages of applications are often overhyped, the triangles on the graph exhibit just that. The triangles on the graph represent applications or trends that are more than 10 years away yet some of these are exactly the trends that are receiving a lot of attention. Even though human tissue has been 3D printed its use in humans is at least 10 years away. On the other hand, there is less awareness of how far the use of 3D printing in automotive has come (up top an additively manufactured window guide rail for BMW i8 Roadster). Another misconception that might arise from examining the Hype Cycle is that these trends are standing, or moving forward on their own. Some trends in some years are tied together, one advancing can boost the speed of another, while in others they are not – consumer 3d printing and service providers are an example. In the past service providers had substantial consumer business, and Shapeways, for example, is still centered on the consumer or prosumer it seems. However, many service providers recently are only servicing companies, not consumers. So while movement in one influenced the other in the past, more recently they move more independently, as seen by the standstill of consumer 3D printing vs the advancement in service providers.
The additive manufacturing ecosystem is accelerating, the fast growth creates unexpected turns, certain trends come into play faster than others, making predictions, a difficult task in itself, all the harder. One thing’s for sure – exciting things are ahead and we look forward to Gartner’s next (2019) hype cycle that is expected mid-year.