A pair of new reports say the 3D printing market in emerging economies could reach $4.5 billion by 2020, at a compound annual growth rate of 37.4% from 2014 to 2020.

Allied Market Research and Lux Research say China, India, UAE, Brazil and South Africa will use additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping processes to propel the growth of the 3D printing technologies.

Both reports say emerging markets India and China "are the most opportunistic regions for the development of 3D printing and market leaders are looking to capitalize on the prevailing opportunities in these countries."

The reports add that mergers and acquisitions undertaken by the top global players will further accelerate the growth and adoption of 3D printing technology, and as an example, they say the acquisition of Brazilian company Robtec by 3D Systems is evocative of the trend.

For its part, the Chinese government has focused on 3D printing to bolster China's manufacturing processes and the reports say various government authorities have already started to funnel research and development funds to projects aimed at fueling the growth of the 3D printing industry.

As of 2013, nearly 60% of China's 3D printer production was exported. Chinese 3D printer makers shipped 8,700 printers which generated $33 million in revenue domestically. The automotive sector accounted for the majority of those sales generating $6.8 million in revenue. Printers for educational uses accounted for $6.5 million of the total but the consumer market proved the largest application segment with sales of 5,900 units in 2013.

The Lux Research report says that by 2018, the Chinese 3D printer market is expected to grow to 37,800 units in 2018. In commercial markets, the automotive and health care sectors are eyed as the areas of most rapid growth. Lux says China owns the largest car market in the world, and 3D printers are widely accepted in prototyping and mold fabrication.

The researchers say metal 3D printers will be the fastest growing segment in the next five years, followed by the low to medium-end polymer devices and industry polymers.

Average selling prices for 3D printers will decline continuously, and most notably in the consumer sector with a decline of 12% from 2013 to 2018, mainly due to the low technology barrier, and the entry of a large number of Chinese players in the low-end polymer consumer 3D printer sector will dramatically bring the price down in the next five years.

During April 2013, China's Ministry of Science and Technology had invested some $6.5 million for the nation's High Technological Research and Development Program.

"While 3D printing has been touted as a way for Western economies to compete with China's manufacturing advantages, the Asian giant is also taking rapid strides to parlay its traditional strengths into 3D printing as well," says Richard Jun Li, Lux Research Director and the lead author of the report. "Far from being disrupted by 3D printing, China will thrive as its expertise in electronics, manufacturing, and its growing domestic market make it a threat and an opportunity for aspiring 3D printing value chain participants."