State of the Industry

Terry Wohlers

Published as part of SME's Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing '93 Conference Proceedings

Copyright 1993 by Wohlers Associates

Rapid prototyping (RP) systems offer a wealth of new possibilities in engineering and manufacturing. Users of RP have saved impressive amounts of money and time, while enhancing the product design and manufacturing process. Organizations use these systems for conceptual modeling, design verification, and fit and function testing. In addition, they show RP parts to customers and potential customers, and send RP parts with requests for bids to their subcontractors. RP users also produce patterns for silicone rubber and epoxy tooling and sand, plaster and investment castings.

The first commercial sales of RP systems occurred in 1988 by 3D Systems. From 1989 through 1992, worldwide annual revenues from RP system sales have grown an average of about 30 percent per year. The compound annual growth rate of the RP market is expected to be about 35-40 percent over the next two years. This growth will come as a result of RP system refinements, increased use of 3D CAD systems, improving economic conditions, and educational programs. Also, RP systems that were previously in a test phase of development are now available for sale. Wohlers Associates estimates that worldwide revenues from RP system sales exceeded $38 million in 1992, and $52 million in 1993.

RP system unit sales topped the 500 mark in April 1993. As many as 12 RP system manufacturers have sold and shipped systems to customers. Five are U.S. manufacturers, four are Japanese, and one each from Germany, Sweden and Israel. Fifteen manufacturers have RP systems for sell, while more than 38 universities, government laboratories and corporations around the globe have researched or developed various forms RP technology. An estimated 23 of them, including the 12 mentioned above, have produced sample parts from their systems.