The market for additive fabrication began its rebound in 2003 with growth of 9.2% after two years of decline. In 2004, the worldwide market, consisting of all products and services, grew to an estimated $705.2 million, up an impressive 33.3% from $528.9 million in 2003. In 2002 and 2001, industry revenues declined by 10% and 10.5%, respectively.
The industry spent $403.1 million on new additive systems and materials in 2004. This is up 48.3% from the $271.8 million spent in 2003, when it grew 15.2%. This market segment declined 0.9% in 2002.
Services from additive processes grew to $302.1 million in 2004, up 17.5% from $257.1 million the year before. The services segment grew 3.5% in 2003 and declined 17.2% in 2002. 2004 was the second year in history for product revenues to exceed service revenues. 2003 was the first year.
The industry’s first 16 years have been strong. Revenues from products and services have grown by an average annual rate of 32% from 1988 to 2004.
The previous information was taken from Wohlers Report 2005, 256-page global market study. A detailed overview of the report, as well as additional information on the market and industry, are available at http://wohlersassociates.com.
On January 4, 2006, CNNMoney.com published a thought-provoking article titled "Tech's New Resolutions: What Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others should shoot for this year." Author Erick Schonfeld, Business 2.0's editor at large, subtitled one part of the article "Amazon.com's resolution: Let customers design their own products." In five paragraphs, he explained why Amazon should offer part fabrication services to anyone with an Internet connection.
Schonfeld explained how Amazon could give customers the opportunity to use web-based tools to design custom products, such as kitchen cabinet hardware, cell phone cases, and action figures. He said that "tight design parameters would ensure a basic floor of quality." He went on to say that Amazon could set up CNC machines, 3D printers, and other rapid prototyping tools, or could outsource the production of the parts to machine shops and service providers.
I agree that the idea could work. Amazon would not want to offer a blank screen from which to conceive a new product. Instead, it could provide basic shapes of new designs—a starting point—with specific dimensions that could be changed to a point. These limits would prevent amateur designers from making features of a design too large or too small. The design experience could be somewhat analogous to piecing together a new computer configuration at dell.com. You are offered many combinations of options, but limits are built into the system so that you configure a computer that is manufacturable. The same is true at nikeid.com where you can very easily and quickly produce a semi-custom pair of shoes.
Schonfeld continues by explaining how Amazon could expand the service to include a design marketplace where customers, and even engineers and designers, could trade and sell designs. I believe that all of this will probably occur in the future. However, a small start-up will likely pioneer the idea. After lots of trial 'n error by the small company, an established corporation, such as Amazon.com, will then enter the business. And it could grow into something very big.
Note: Wohlers Talk is a blog that offers views, perspective, and commentary related to rapid product development and other topics of interest. Eighty-three commentaries have been published since February 2003. To view them, visit http://wohlersassociates.com and click "Wohlers Talk."
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