3D printing beyond the Hype: Investment Drives Industrial Growth
The world of industrial 3D printing is making a significant leap in investment. Over the past two years, billions of dollars have been poured into this sector, with emerging companies benefiting from a flood of funding. But how does this progress manifest itself in practice and what prospects does this emerging industry have as it attracts increasing attention from investors?
According to Terry Wohlers, an expert on 3D printing, nearly $1.5 billion was spent worldwide on 3D printing finished products in 2019. Let’s go back to the beginning of 2010, more than a decade ago. At the time, there was excitement and hype surrounding 3D printing, fueled by the expiration of several patents. A vision of 3D printers in every household emerged, where consumers could produce 3D objects with the simple click of a button. This hype attracted a lot of attention: new companies flooded the market and invested millions in 3D printers. Shares of major 3D printer manufacturers such as 3D Systems and Stratasys skyrocketed. It seemed that 3D printing was about to spark a revolutionary technological movement.
However, this excitement proved premature. The promised 3D printer revolution for consumers did not really take off. The technology proved less user-friendly than imagined and, more importantly, critical consumer applications to actually facilitate 3D printing at home were lacking. As a result, the market for consumer-oriented 3D printers shrank significantly between 2014 and 2016. Many of the new companies, especially those that produced “desktop” 3D printers, struggled and stock prices fell
We fast-forward through time: according to research firm Smartech Publishing, the 3D printing industry grew 24% in 2018 to $9.3 billion. In 2019, this rose to $10.4 billion, crossing the $10 billion mark for the first time in the 3D printing industry’s 40-year history. Even in the challenging year 2020, amid the corona pandemic, 5-10% growth was still reported. Analysts predict continued growth in the coming years. But what is driving this upswing? The answer lies in industrial 3D printing.
Although the vision of a 3D printer in every household has so far not been fulfilled, 3D printing has emerged as a promising technology for industrial production. It accelerates product development processes and makes the production of functional end parts increasingly feasible. Demanding industries such as automotive, aerospace, medical and mechanical engineering are integrating 3D printers into their workflow, both for plastic and metal parts.
In late 2018, for example, car manufacturer Volkswagen launched a digital manufacturing and 3D printing center. The company presented a detailed roadmap to produce between 50,000 and 100,000 functional parts, the size of a soccer ball, per year with 3D printing by 2021.
According to 3D printing analyst Terry Wohlers, nearly $1.5 billion was spent worldwide on 3D printing finished products in 2019, up significantly from over $600 million in 2016, more than doubling in three years. A similar shift is seen in the Benelux market, with 3D printing increasingly shifting to series production, in addition to the importance of prototyping.
It is clear that industrial 3D printing is a complementary technology, offering new design options, enabling new applications and lowering production costs. Flemish and Dutch manufacturing companies recognize this and show a strong willingness to invest in this technology, as indicated by surveys in the region.
Although there is clear growth in the 3D printing industry, funding often remains a challenge for promising start-ups in the Benelux region. Some promising new companies are poised to grow but struggle to access the necessary funding. Nevertheless, the potential of 3D printing, now focused on industrial applications, remains very attractive to investors. Large companies such as HP, BASF and GE are entering the market to transform the global manufacturing landscape.
As the 3D printing industry continues to evolve, investors are watching closely. Flam3D offers access to a portfolio of start-ups and scale-ups active in the 3D printing field, encouraging further growth and innovation.