Growth in the AM Market Tied to Ecosystem Expansion

Partnerships aimed at simplifying AM processes dominated 2022 activity, according to IDTechEx 3D printing round-up.

Partnerships aimed at simplifying AM processes dominated 2022 activity, according to IDTechEx 3D printing round-up

2022 was a solid growth year for the additive manufacturing (AM) market with lots of development and partnerships aimed at fleshing out the ecosystem in order to drive large-scale adoption of production-grade applications.

Those were the main takeaways from IDTechEx’s 3D printing round-up webinar which considered the key trends and shakeups in the AM market in 2022. IDTechEx Technology Analyst Sona Dadhania characterized AM adoption as solid throughout the year, but highlighted the growing recognition among both 3D printing companies and potential customers that AM is a powerful, yet still not plug-and-play methodology that is easily embraced and integrated into a business supply chain.

“Businesses need to consider how the supply chain needs to be adapted to incorporate 3D printing as well as identify applications where 3D printing can add value,” she explained. 3D printing, Dadhania said, is not suitable for all manufacturing applications, therefore it’s crucial that companies find the right fit or risk missing out on the full value of a 3D printing investment.

Dadhania called out three trends she said dominated 2022’s rash of product announcements, partnerships, and mergers. They include:

Automation. Given the labor-intensive nature of the AM process, companies put a lot of investment and partnership energy behind software and hardware capabilities that would reduce complexities in the process. Companion robotics offerings that move parts throughout the 3D printing process as well as automated post-processing systems have the greatest potential impact for accelerating demand and adoption. “It’s clear the question of how to leverage robotics and software to fully automate AM production lines is at the forefront of 3D printing OEMs across the board,” she said.

Large-format printing. There was lots of activity on this front, but Dadhania voiced concerns that the category might be over saturated with vendors and new products. “The prints are eye-catching, but there is a question whether this already populated space in AM is over crowded,” she said. “At the moment, there are only so many applications requiring large-format printers.” Application development will be crucial as companies search for niche areas where companies can justify the cost of the printers.

Sustainability. On their own, 3D printers can help reduce materials waste compared to subtractive manufacturing methods, but there is also plenty of activity going on to make the printers themselves a more sustainable manufacturing method. Key to this is advancements in bio-based and recycled feedstock materials like the ones recently announced by EOS and Arkema. Other 3D printer and materials manufacturers—for example, Evonik—are using renewable energy and other sustainable practices to reduce carbon and/or land and water usage associated with production and shipment of their offerings.

“Sustainability is of high interest to our clients whether to follow a high-level commitment to greener manufacturing or to comply with government regulations,” Dadhania said.

On the finance front, AM was a hotbed of merger and acquisition activity, although a bit slower than in 2021. IDTechEx counted 30 M&As in the sector with four companies initiating initial public offerings (IPOs). IDTechEx also calculated $1.3 billion in publicly-known investment in 3D printing related companies—both trends she said reflects on-going consolidation in the market with slowing activity indicating that investors don’t see the sector hitting every growth target.

Despite a flurry of bankruptcies and company layoffs, IDTechEx remains bullish on the AM market, especially as players continue to strike partnerships and build ecosystem relationships that continue to make the technology more accessible and easier to deploy at production-scale.

IDTechEx expects the 3D printing industry to continue to grow next year and over the next decade, hitting $41 billion in sales, including both hardware and materials, by the end of 2033. “Even though the AM market hasn’t met the initial hype, it’s still very much a growing field,” Dadhania said.

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Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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