Geo Week News

April 3, 2012

3D to be a $227b market? Okey doke.


I’ve seen a press release making the rounds from Markets and Markets, often sporting a headline along the lines of “Global 3D market to be $227 billion by 2016.” American Surveyor and others have posted it. The release touts a research report, which you can buy for $5k, that predicts size and growth for the “Three-Dimensional (3D) Technology Market (2011 – 2016).” I understand the potential attraction to such a report. But it’s probably not for you. It’s not really the 3D that we talk about here on a regular basis.

If there’s one question I get more than any other it’s this: “What’s the size of the global 3D market?” Or, “What’s the size of the laser scanning market?” Etc. And I get it. You’re trying to put together a business plan, or you’re making a pitch to potential investors, and you need something that will help you make your case.

And it may very well be that SPAR will move to create a market-size report this summer if the stars align just the right way and we can get numbers that we’re confident in. But that will be a report of what’s right now. You won’t find me engaging in predictions into the future with CAGR numbers like Markets and Markets’ 15.81 percent. I remember all to well the rosy predictions that were crossing my desk in early 2008 about market growth.

You know how those turned out.

Frye and I have the same healthy skepticism of this report’s usefulness for 3D data capture professionals.

But that’s not where my skepticism about this report comes in. Plenty of people have made a good living out of the prediction game. No, it comes in with a paragraph like this one:

According to a new market research report, “Three-Dimensional (3D) Technology Market (2011 – 2016) by Products (3D IC, 3D Printer, 3D Display – HMD, 3D Smartphone, 3D TV, 3D Digital Signage), Applications (3D Animation, 3D Printing, 3D Medical Imaging, 3D CAD, 3D Gaming, 3D Cinema) & Technology (Stereoscopy, Auto-Stereoscopy, Volumetric) Focus, Global Forecast & Analysis – Features Introduction to 4D Technology” published by MarketsandMarkets (, the total market is expected to reach $227.27 billion by 2016, at a CAGR of 15.81%.

First of all, I just completely fail to see how 3D printers have anything to do with 3D display. How is 3D medical imaging in any way like 3D animation? What does 3D CAD have to do with 3D cinema? Well, of course, nothing. If you want to lump 3D display smart phones in with 3D animation services and come up with a big number like $227 billion, sure, go right ahead. Sure, there’s a tangential relationship between the thrill that the general population gets out of a great 3D movie created with stereo projection and some goofy glasses and the growing acceptance of 3D data capture techniques that allow medical professionals to better diagnose illnesses and maladies, but does the growth of one really bear any impact on the growth of the other?

I could see a report that just focuses on 3D display, and all of the markets interested in using 3D display, but then where do the 3D printers come in? Just another kind of display, I guess. 

Anyway, what’s more important: Where is the true 3D data capture in all of that?

Take a look at how Research and Markets pitches this report: 

In 4D BIM, architects or engineers are able to make forecasted image of their projects with the combination of 4D and CAD tools. It also helps in predicting the timeline of the projects. In 4D medical imaging, it helps to display the affected organ or development of fetus over certain period of time. It helps doctor in curing the disease of the patient.

Both of those statements are undeniably true, but do the engineer and the doctor share a single tool? Is there even the potential for them to share a single tool? The display, I guess, but does the display really matter in the grand scheme of 4D CAD? You don’t even need a 3D display to realize the value of 4D CAD technology. 

Do I think an engineer and a doctor can learn from the way each other use 3D technology? Of course. It’s the basis for everything we do here at SPAR. We’re about as horizontal in our approach as you can get. But does it make any sense to lump those two markets together to create a market-sizing or market-growth number? I really don’t see how it does. 

I’m sure the $227.27 billion and 15.81 percent CAGR numbers are just out there to create buzz. I’m sure there’s very useful granular data in that report establishing the 3D glasses marketplace or the 3D display marketplace. But as far as I can tell, there isn’t a bit about the true 3D data capture marketplace, other than the medical field. I don’t see any mention of laser scanning or photogrammetry at all. Just stereoscopy. 

See any data capture or companies you recognize in the table of contents?

People love big numbers, and I’m guilty of a sensational web headline just like the rest of the internet, but I hope no one seriously thinks those are useful numbers for anyone actually working with 3D data capture technology.

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