Germans predict bright future for 3D printing

It is difficult to imagine modern-day industrial manufacturing without 3D printing, and its use in private homes is also on the rise. The vast majority of Germans are aware of the technology. In a representative survey on behalf of the digital industry association Bitkom, almost 9 out of 10 respondents (87 percent) stated that they had heard or read something about 3D printing. This corresponds to some 61 million citizens aged 14 or above. Consumers particularly value the wide range of possibilities opened up by this new technology. 3D printing can be used to manufacture objects made of all sorts of different materials.
The areas of use that consumers are most familiar with are architecture (89 percent), medicine (85 percent), industrial manufacturing (81 percent) and 3D selfie figurines (74 percent). Almost a fifth of respondents (18 percent) have themselves made something or had something made using a 3D printer. Over half of them (55 percent) can imagine doing this in the future. A quarter is basically not interested in the technology. Most of those who have already used 3D printing did so via a service provider (9 percent). 5 percent used their own 3D printer; another 3 percent used a 3D printer at the place where they work. “Today, 3D printing is already extremely relevant in industrial contexts, and the technology is starting to become interesting for private households, too,” says Achim Berg, the vice president of Bitkom. “Our figures suggest that companies that offer 3D printers on the consumer market have excellent prospects. In the medium term, 3D printing could become a mass product thanks to its wide range of applications.”

The survey shows that many consumers are unaware of the possible places where they could get things printed in 3D – even without having their own printer. Only a quarter of respondents (28 percent) have heard of fab labs and 3D labs at universities. Two thirds of consumers (64 percent) still consider commercially available 3D printers to be too expensive. A third (34 percent) is not prepared to pay more than 500 euros for such a device, while a similar number (30 percent) would only pay up to 100 euros. Over half the respondents (55 percent) say they would like to use a 3D copy shop along the lines of classical copy shops.

The biggest advantages of 3D printing are seen by consumers to lie in the customisation of objects (81 percent) and being independent of retailers and manufacturers (40 percent) when something breaks. However, some people also worry about the technology: eight out of ten Germans (79 percent) are concerned that patented objects and proprietary designs could simply be copied at home. “3D printing techniques raise a number of questions concerning intellectual property rights and their enforceability,” says Berg. Up until now, he continues, the existing regulations are adequate and established laws, such as patent laws, are effective. “What is important is that the growth potential in 3D printing must not be obstructed by excessively strict regulations or exaggerated supervision requirements.” At the same time, he believes that this is the basis for enabling start-ups and other innovative companies to offer and continue to refine the technology.

When it comes to the future viability of the technology, the vast majority of consumers have extremely positive expectations: 90 percent believe that 3D printing will become established in private households in the long run. One third (36 percent) believes that this will already happen within the next five years. In terms of its industrial applications, consumers are even more optimistic. Here, nine out of ten respondents (92 percent) say that 3D printing will win through by 2022. “To achieve a breakthrough in home use, the machines need to become even more user-friendly and cheaper. If the purchasing price and threshold for adoption continue to drop, 3D printing will in future become a normal part of our everyday lives,” concludes Berg.