Analyst company Gartner has urged businesses to start experimenting with 3D printers today in order to learn how the technology can improve product design and manufacturing.
Although it is already in widespread use in industries from car manufacturing to consumer goods, until recently 3D printing has been prohibitively expensive for most businesses, Gartner said in a report called 'How 3D Printing Disrupts Business and Creates New Opportunities'.
But enterprise-class 3D printers will be available for under $2,000 (£1,318) by 2016, Gartner said. That will lower the cost of entry into manufacturing in the same way e-commerce lowered the barrier to the sale of goods and services, it said.
“It is a technology of great interest to the general media, with demonstrations on science shows, on gadget websites and in other areas," said Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner. "The hype leads many people to think the technology is some years away when it is available now and is affordable to most enterprises."
Getting started now will allow business to find out how to use 3D printing to design personalised products and build prototypes rapidly before the technology hits the mainstream.
“Businesses must continuously monitor advances to identify where improvements can be leveraged,” Basiliere said. "We see 3D printing as a tool for empowerment, already enabling life-changing parts and products to be built in struggling countries, helping rebuild crisis-hit areas and leading to the democratisation of manufacturing.”