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Microwaves, Lawnmowers, and Personal 3D Printers

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Many business analysts use analogies to think about new opportunities. Over the last twelve months, I have been asked countless times what products I think about when trying to gauge the potential size of the personal 3DP addressable market. The two industries I keep revisiting are microwave ovens and powered lawn care equipment. These two industries bear remarkable parallels to the 3DP industry, but are notably different from one another. Thinking about both of these analogies together, I believe shows the conflicting opinions about personal 3DP floating around the industry currently.

3DP optimists tend to refer to microwave ovens as the best comparison. Like microwave ovens, personal 3DP will be in high demand because of the high value that microwave ovens can bring to users. Also, experts who use this analogy believe that 3DP creation will become more and more intuitive, to the point where you only need to click a few buttons to produce a printed object on demand. Most professional’s use this analogy to argue that mass adoption of personal 3DP equipment, when it occurs, will be rapid (just like microwaves, which went form anonymous to ubiquitous in only a few years). Many of these analysts believe that there will be personal 3DP in the majority of American households in ten years time.

Powered lawn care equipment is another product category that bears remarkable resemblance to the personal 3DP market. For one, mowers and other lawn care equipment are remarkably similarly priced to current 3DP technology. Riding mowers are nearly the same price as premium personal 3DP equipment ($2,500-$3,500), while less-substantial lawn care hardware are similar in price to compact personal 3D printers ($800-$1,200).

Also, the potential market for lawn care equipment may better resemble the potential market for personal 3DP equipment. Not all homeowners own lawns that require a substantial mowing equipment, and a percentage of home owners with lawns choose to outsource lawn care, instead of spending the time and effort of doing it themselves. We see these same tendencies occurring in the personal 3DP market as well. At least in its current form, personal 3DP may not fit the needs of some consumers. Meanwhile, other consumers may choose to simply outsource the benefits that 3DP can bring to their products to outside manufacturers or service bureaus.

I believe the size of the opportunity in personal 3DP lies somewhere in between these two markets, although I realize that this doesn’t necessarily give the most precise guidance.  These two industries vary widely in overall market size. The global demand for microwaves is around 67 million units annually. At the current average cost of a 3DP, that would represent a total opportunity of $107.2 billion. Meanwhile, the total global demand for powered garden tools is around $22 billion.

To me, it is extremely difficult to look at current personal 3DP equipment unit sales and see how the industry will be supplying the majority of American homes in ten years. However, I also believe that a large percentage of US homes will be able to clearly recognize the value of owning a 3D printer in around five years.