In my previous blog, I summed up what SmarTech believes were the five biggest themes of the 3D printing industry in 2013. There are many impending events in the coming year that will determine the overall size and shape of the global 3D printing industry. Here are the four questions we want answered in 2014.

1. HP in 3DP and Beyond — Time To Bring Out The Big Guns?

In November 2013, HP announced it intended to get involved in the 3D printing space. To what capacity and when is yet to be revealed, but there are now reports of 3D printers whirring around in basement labs behind black sheets.

HP’s announcement begs the larger question of when and where other giant tech companies fit into the 3D printing narrative. This goes for material manufacturers and large retailers as well. When and where will they choose to stake their claim? Will it be through their own efforts or acquisition?

2.  Prosumer Oasis? Or Mirage?

MakerBot surprised the market when they announced $11.6 million in revenue for the third quarter of 2013. A number of other prominent personal 3D printer manufactures have also released printers in this $2,500 – $3,500 price range, such as 3D Systems’ Cube X, and FormLabs Form 1.

In our eyes, this is the first generation of personal 3D printers that you can actually do meaningful things with. The big question is how will the market receive these new printers? Will they embrace new technology? Or will the price and technological learning curve prove to be too steep for the masses?

3.  Will New Opportunities “Material”ize?

More applications have been enabled on larger, more powerful 3D printers. For example, improved metal 3D printers open up large opportunities in orthopedic implants. The question is how large must the benefits be to encourage manufacturers to take on the switching costs of these newly-enabled 3D printing solutions?

4.  Bringing Business Home?

With rising labor prices in emerging economies, there is a new interest in bringing manufacturing back over to domestic markets, both to speed product delivery and integrate value chains.

Is this mostly an academic hypothetical, or a real trend? Is 3D printing fuel to the fire? Or will the inability to scale 3D printing production to large volumes stymie its overall effect?

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