Don’t believe the hype

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:

The Gartner Hype Cycle will be a concept familiar to many of those reading this. For those unfamiliar with it, however, it is a branded graphical presentation developed and used by the American research, advisory and information technology firm Gartner to represent the maturity, adoption, and social application of specific technologies. The hype cycle provides a graphical and conceptual presentation of the maturity of emerging technologies through five phases.

These phases are: Technology Trigger; Peak of Inflated Expectations; Trough of Disillusionment; Slope of Enlightenment and the Plateau of Productivity.

From our point of view as journalists, the hype cycle is a handy barometer. When we are being bombarded with publicity pushing any relatively novel technology, it can be a useful exercise to step back and try to assess objectively where on the cycle that technology currently sits. This allows one to determine the value of the claims being made for it.

When I first took over as editor of Eureka! back in 2010, 3D printing (to use a blanket term) was still just about clinging on at the peak of inflated expectations, but was moving inexorably towards the trough of disillusionment, as most engineering businesses looked at the technology and found it either inadequate for their needs or – where it was capable – simply too expensive to contemplate.

In 2019, things are rather different. As mainstream applications of the technology increased, the value of the technology became more generally apparent and therefore desirable, the slope of enlightenment has been steadily ascended.

So are we at the plateau of productivity yet? To answer that, it’s worth looking at what the definition of that condition is. According to Gartner, it is: ‘Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology's broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off. If the technology has more than a niche market then it will continue to grow.”

It seems to me that it would take a curmudgeon to suggest that 3D printing as a technology has not achieved this status. However, that is not the same as saying that it has broken through completely. The effort is still underway to democratise this technology to the extent that every design engineer has easy access to it.

So, while the technology may have made its way through the Hype Cycle, it still has a long journey ahead of it.


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