Introduction & summary
This is the second in a series of longitudinal surveys on the 3D printing community. The results of the first survey in 2012 can be found on this site and in a First Monday article. Since the previous survey, several interesting developments have taken place in the 3D printing environment, including but not limited to:
- Emerging 4D printing (http://www.webpronews.com/heres-everything-you-need-to-know-about-4d-printing-2013-05)
- Networked 3D printing – 3D hubs (http://www.3dhubs.com/)
- Lots of Kickstarter projects for new 3D printers (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/search?term=3d+printer)
- 3D printable gun (http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-33809_7-57560076/makerbot-purges-3d-printable-gun-parts-from-thingiverse/)
- Initiatives for easier scanning and clean-up (http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2013-08/finally-easy-way-3-d-scan-and-print)
3D printing technology is advancing, and at the same time there are important developments in terms of making both the software and the hardware easier to use. The visibility of 3D printing in media has been high throughout the year. Looking forward, these trends can be expected to continue. One expected game changer is the expiration of 3D related patents 2014.
In view of the previous results, we find that the most interesting trends in the 2013 survey are:
- increase in the number of different models of 3D printers used
- increase in the number of different 3D printing services used
- growing economical interests: 3D Printer manufacturing market polarization, new manufacturer startups and kickstarter driven 3D printers
- possible signs of maturing ecosystem and that 3D printing might be on the verge of spreading outside geek communities dispite the lacks in hardware and software.
Background of the survey
In this longitudinal survey, we approach 3d printing as an example of the open source inspired landscape of peer production. The aim of the survey is to gain a view into the development of the demographics of the 3D printing community, and the changing patterns of production, keeping especially in mind the expectations that 3D printing is a part of an emerging “revolution in manufacturing”. Research around 3D printing as an example of commons-based peer production is still minimal (but see Troxler , Moilanen & Vadén). The approach in the current research has concentrated in defining the overall change and analysing most prominent features. Statistical studies of 3D Printing community are still missing. This research aims towards that direction by continuing the longitudinal series started 2012.
Research settings and methods
The research is built on surveys. Surveys will be conducted annually, forming a longitudinal data base about 3D printing community, members of it, and features of the community. We have included both 1) people using 3D printers and people who 2) develop 3D printers and related software.
The former group refers to people who print objects with 3D printers but have no interest or skills to make any development either on software or hardware. This group contains also people who use 3D printing services like Shapeways and Ponoko. Shapeways and similar services also represent a kind of commons-based peer production since the models and ‘things’ sold in webshops are made by a large population of people who participate (at least mostly) voluntarily. They create the content. The same situation can be found in the other group too. The second group (technology developers) contains those who make contributions, software or hardware, to 3D printing communities. Of course, the above groups are only a subset of people involved in 3D printing. Somewhere in between are people who buy 3D printers, and assemble and use the machines with the help of the community. They are commonly referred as 3) early adopters.
- Figure 1. Target audiences and approach channels
The survey in 2013 was directed to all three groups (in Fig. 1 above). Developers were approached through developing mailing lists and hackerspaces discussion list. End users were approached with the help of a few 3D printing services and twitter. Shapeways, Ponoko, i.Materialise, Adafruit and Fabbaloo among others were asked to promote this survey and they all blogged and tweeted about it [imaterialise, shapeways, ponoko, fabbaloo, adafruit]. Early adopters were assumed to populate RepRap users mailing list and follow 3D printing related twitter feeds and blogs. Using twitter and getting publicity from 3D printing service providers most likely lead to some amount of ‘false respondents’ (the most extravagant answers were filtered out).
Time to take a look at the results.
Tags: 3D, BitsFromBytes, commons-based, Dimension, EOS, fabbaloo, Gartner, hacker, moilanen, motivation, Objet, open hardware, open source, P2P, peer production, ponoko, reprap, Sculpteo, shapeways, stratasys, Vadén, ZCorp