2011 – The year of the 3D printer?

Just how popular is the desktop 3D printer now as opposed to a year ago? How popular will it be this time next year? There are a few tools available that may help provide quantitative answers to these questions.

One such tool is Google insight. Google insight is a free tool that’s used by company’s to asses the impact of their product marketing by observing how search interest changes with time and location. It can also give some interesting insight into how awareness of desktop 3D printing has changed over the past 12 months.

For example, the number of searches for the term ‘reprap‘ has continued its relentless growth over 2010 and shows no signs of abating.

The scale bar on the right (0 to 100) just represents the normalised values. In other words, the date with the most searches so far will have a value of 100 and all other points will be some value from 0 to 100 that’s relative to that peak value.

Focusing on only the last 12 months, it can be seen that 3D printing related search terms have continued to experience rapid growth on the preceding 12 months.

1. reprap mendel +400%
2. reprap makerbot +180%
3. makerbot +170%
4. extruder +110%
5. 3d printer +100%
6. reprap parts +90%
7. cupcake reprap +70%
8. reprap 3d +70%
9. reprap 3d printer +70%
10. reprap printer +70%

What I find interesting about this table is that ‘Reprap’ related search terms are growing much faster than Makerbot related serch terms. This is a little perplexing considering the amount of media coverage makerbot has had over the last year and the shear number of cupcake cnc’s that are out in the wild. Then again, its almost impossible to keep track of the number of Mendel’s in the wild and any media coverage surrounding them.

This is also seen when you search the term ‘reprap’ while excluding makerbot and serch the term ‘makerbot’ while excluding reprap. Keep in mind that this doesn’t reflect the total number of seaches for each term, but rather suggests that one is growing faster than the other.

Looking again at the search term ‘reprap’, this time by region shows another defining trend.

As you would expect, only wealthy first world countries are currently seeking out information about Reprap’s.  Its a little hard to see on this scale, but the Netherlands has shown the biggest increase. Conducting the same search again for the term ‘makerbot’ shows a slightly different picture.

If you look closely at Europe its clear there is less searches for the term ‘makerbot’ when compared to the term ‘reprap’ above. This may again be due to the mostly US based media coverage of Makerbot.

Something else to consider here is that all this information is gathered from google searches only. As google is far from the dominant web search engine in countries such as China (20% market share as opposed to Baidu’s 62%) , it hardly provides a clear picture. Also language barriers may play a part. There is a definite reprap presence in China, and even their own home grown Up! Personal 3D printer which isn’t reflected in the goggle results.

All up one thing is very clear from all this: Desktop 3D printing is growing at an astonishing rate.


Looking into the crystal ball I suspect it wont be long until well established fortune 500 company’s begin to take this emerging domestic 3D printer market seriously. Within a decade we may begin to see sub $1000USD desktop 3D printers from brands such as Epson, HP, Cannon, Brother or even Apple (The iprinter?).

No doubt each company will have a slightly different idea of how things should be done (filament size, plastic type ect) and chaos will ensure until a set of standards can be agreed upon.  Even if this means a Betamax vs VHS style war.. If your under 20, think Blu-ray vs HD DVD.

What worries me the most though isn’t the hardware standards, but the software standards. If each company tries to limit what you can print on ‘their” machine to only 3d models downloaded from their own market place then this will really hurt creativity. Worse still will be if they word cretin user agreements so that any model you upload instantly belongs to them or if they start to censor 3D models they don’t agree with. Imagine the horror if you discovered your brand new shop bought printer wouldn’t let you print a basic female form because it was deemed unsavoury.

Then again, isn’t new technology usually first utilised by the adult entertainment industry?.. Thankfully all these things,  for better or worse, are still years away.

For some interesting discussion on the future of 3d printing take a look at the pages  linked below.

About Richard

I am a Materials Engineering working in the field of Magnetic Materials in Melbourne, Australia. This blog covers my personal interest in all things CNC.
This entry was posted in Mendel Build and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to 2011 – The year of the 3D printer?

  1. Erik says:

    Thanks for this post!
    Also, you’ll find growth statistics in my masters’ thesis and in this post.

  2. Erik says:

    I guess I know why the Dutch are Googling for RepRap. Last year I’ve really been spamming our country through mainstream media 🙂

    2010-11 Interview on BNR New Radio “DenkTank” (Dutch) (hier te beluisteren)
    2010-11 Interview at TEDxAmsterdam by Business News Radio
    2010-10 Interview BN De Stem, Eindhovens Dagblad, De Stentor, etc.
    2010-10 Interview in VPRO Guide (hardcopy) and on theirwebsite.
    2010-10 Interview for Kennislink.nl (link).

    2010-08 Interview in Bright Magazine: online article (text only)

    2010-04 Interview in Dutch radio show “Met
    ‘t oog op morgen” (ca. 300,000 audience, weblogplayermp3

    2010-04 Dutch Newspaper “Trouw”: two page article
    2010-03 Interview Reformatorisch dagblad (two page article)

    2010-03 Omroep Brabant (Hot en Gespot, youtube video)
    2010-02 Dutch National news: NOS Journaal op 3 (view it
    via Youtube)
    2010-02 Dutch Newspaper article in NRC and NRC.next(also: video interview on NRC.next weblog)
    2009-12 Dutch article in Intermediair

    (from: http://www.google.com/profiles/erikdebruijn1#about)

    Note that countries with many inhabitants tend to get blue more easily, in the graphs!

    • Richard says:

      Hi Erik

      Love the work your doing over at Ultimaker. Its good to see your out there spreading the word.

      As for population size and search results, I think the results are normalised for each country. I get the feeling that a country’s spoken language and the uptake of google as a search engine would also play a big part.

  3. Paul Dutch says:

    Hi Richard and Erik,

    As a Dutchy living in New Zealand I get to hear a bit from both worlds..
    The Google results hugely vary according to country of search (CoS).
    If you go to Turbohide.com and use Google from there, I think that your search results would be the fairest as the website hides your IP.
    But the general Google searcher doesn’t bother and thus only receives the results that are customised according to CoS.
    Good usage though of Google Insight. A picture is worth a thousand words they say. And that graph tells all.. The Repstrap on the rise.

    As many a tinkerer I am currently at a stage that I have X and Y on my.. let’s say Repstrapper, working..

    Richard, I’ll be in Melbourne later this year.. Would be good to be introduced into the world of 3D in Aussie if I could. Interested in meeting up?
    And Erik, I’ll be in the Netherlands most of May.. Care to meet up for a “biertje” and talk about the Ultimaker?


  4. Paul Dutch says:


    Btw. the ReplicatorG software is such a breath of fresh air!
    Trying to work either Reprap Host or Repsnapper is like putting Ikea furniture together with the Scandanavian manual.. you don’t understand what stuff does and the words look funny and out of wack.
    ReplicatorG is so well put together. Especially being able to edit the interface between Host and Firmware in a simple xml file.. Genius!!

  5. Duann says:

    That is interesting, Thanks for sharing Richard.

    I took a look at Shapeways searches and the growth from google searches does not keep up with the growth in traffic and users Shapeways is experiencing, this seems to be due to the increase in traffic driven to the site via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, along with other social media sites and blogs.

    I am also surprised and heartened to see how strong Australia came into the RepRap equation..

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